New Pa. program aims to help at-risk kids stay out of foster care, group homes | Tuesday Coffee

Supporters bill the Family First Prevention Services Act as a historic step forward in protecting, promoting child welfare 

October 5, 2021 7:11 am

(*This story was updated at 7:33 a.m. on Tuesday, 10/5/21 to correct the spelling of Rachael Miller’s first name.)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A new state action plan taking effect this month aims to keep more at-risk children in their homes and communities, reducing the need for foster and group home placements.

The plan is required under the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, a piece of legislation authorized under a February 2018 bipartisan budget deal that ended a government shutdown, and kept the federal government afloat. Supporters say the bill represents a historic step forward in protecting and promoting child welfare in the commonwealth, and across the nation.

The Capital-Star chatted this week with *Rachael Miller, the policy director of the advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, about the state’s 5-year plan under the law, which took effect on Oct. 1, and its implication for Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, which administer child welfare programs.

The conversation below has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Q: First off, what is the Family First Prevention Services Act, and what do people need to know about it?

A: “The FFPSA a historic piece of legislation passed as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, it fundamentally shifts financing of the child welfare system, by promoting the use of preventative, evidence-based services to prevent the use of out-of-home placements, which includes foster and congregate care.

It [also] creates a new federal funding stream that reimburses up to 50 percent of the costs of those services, it funnels through the state, and it goes to the counties, because we are a county-administered system. It limits reimbursement for deep-end placement services, such as residential and institutional placements. Really it is a shift to a more preventive approach, so that kids can stay with their families and the people they know and trust and have a relationship with.”

Q: If you’re a parent, foster parent, or a guardian, why do you need to take heed of it, and what do you need to know about it?

A: “It will allow counties to really increase the use of those preventive services to mitigate risk and increase the safety factors for a child … working with the family and child to remain in their own communities.”

(Pa. Partnerships for Children, photo)

Q: What’s the universe of kids who are potentially impacted by this? How many children are we talking about here?

A: “To look through the referral numbers for 2018 [the most recent year for which data are available], child abuse and neglect referrals were a total of more than 210,000. And the number of children and families [who were served] was a little more than 187,000.”

Q: We know, for instance, that there were fewer such referrals during the pandemic — not because abuse wasn’t happening, but because the calls weren’t being made. What are those numbers likely to look like when the data becomes available?

A: “As stay-at-home orders were implemented, and kids stopped going to school or the doctor’s office, those mandated reporters were not having eyes on kids as often as they were, and that translates to less identification of child abuse and neglect.

“And we have not seen the release of 2021 report, to really look at how referrals declined. But as kids started going [back] to school in-person, was there an increase? We’re not sure yet. There have definitely been a lot of issues caused by COVID. There’s abuse being hidden. And of course there will be an increased need for supportive services. This is coming at a good time, can really provide these services to families as we’re moving through, and coming out of, the pandemic.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

In a party-line vote on Monday, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House approved legislation to remove from state law a frequently cited public records carve-out that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has used to deny the public and the media access to data on the COVID-19 pandemic. Stephen Caruso has the details.

State Sen. Mike Regan, R-York — yes, Mike Regan — has introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in the commonwealthMarley Parish reports.

Negotiations are ‘ongoing,’ but a Republican-controlled state Senate panel has yet to hire a third-party vendor for its partisan probe of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election, Marley Parish also reports.

Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson and National Correspondent Jacob Fischler explain the current nervous breakdown on Capitol Hill over infrastructure funding and the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.

National Correspondent Dan Vock explains how congressional Democrats’ vision for free community college would boost undocumented students in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 14,076 new cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania in the three days between 12 a.m. on Saturday and Monday. That brings the statewide total of cases to 1.44 million since the start of the pandemic, I report.

An Oct. 11 event in Pittsburgh will celebrate the history and legacy of a half-century of queer media in the commonwealth, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report. Among the speakers are Capital-Star Opinion Contributor Frank Pizzoli. Pizzoli is the founder and publisher of the Central Voice, the LGBTQ newspaper of central Pennsylvania, which shuttered during the pandemic.

Our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune talk to new Temple University President Jason Wingard, the institution’s first Black leader, about his plans for ‘Philadelphia’s university.’

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan runs down how four pop songs about time explain our current politics and what’s at stake. And today, on World Teachers’ Day, a Penn State expert explains how education reform can support educators instead of undermining them.

Pa. Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland (Facebook photo).


The Inquirer fact-checks a claim that Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, made to defend the GOP’s election probe and finds there’s no evidence to support it.

Advocates are calling for the resignation of the head of Pittsburgh’s Housing Authority, the Post-Gazette reports.

PennDOT is hiring hundreds of workers this winter. PennLive has the details.

The Morning Call, meanwhile, looks at some of the incentives that local companies are offering to lure workers.

A popular Lancaster County school superintendent will retire in 2022, LancasterOnline reports.

After a series of accidents, Wilkes-Barre police will crack down on speeders near the Mohegan Sun Arena, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Philadelphia’s epidemic of gun violence has prompted calls for more aggressive policing along the city’s commercial corridors, WHYY-FM reports.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro abruptly rescheduled a news conference on Monday where he was slated to announce major criminal charges against a pipeline developer, the Associated Press reports.

GoErie has its readers guide to the 2021 municipal elections.

Congress is ‘moving toward’ requiring women to register for the draftRoll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The House comes in at 11 a.m. today.
10 a.m., Capitol Steps: PennEnvironment and others on the problems caused by elevated air pollution levels
10 a.m., Live Stream: Senate Democratic Policy Committee
11 a.m.: Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate State Government Committee
11 a.m.: Capitol Fountain: Turn the Fountain Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness event
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Chris Sainato
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Barb Gleim
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Gerald Mullery
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. David Hickernell
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Lou Schmitt
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Marci Mustello
8:30 a.m.: Breakfast for the Dauphin County Community Fund
5 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
5 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Anita Astorino Kulik
5:30 p.m.: Reception for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff
6 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Jesse Topper
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a positively ridiculous $28,000 today.

By the time some of you read this, Gov. Tom Wolf will have done an 8:07 a.m. interview on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a classic from The Faces to get your Tuesday morning rolling. It’s the immortal “Ooh la la.”

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
Claudio Ranieri starts his fourth tour of duty in the Premiership as he takes over as manager at Watford FC, who currently sit 15th in the table, logging just two wins in seven games. The Guardian has the story.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.