Commentary

Report paints uncertain picture of Pa. child welfare system in pandemic | Wednesday Morning Coffee

As expected, child protective service reports declined during the pandemic, but the substantiation rate for those reports reached a five-year high

December 8, 2021 7:12 am

(Pa. Partnerships for Children photo)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A new report paints an uncertain picture for children, families and Pennsylvania’s child welfare system amid the COVID-19 pandemic, finding declines in child protective service reports and the number of children served in the state’s foster care system.

But the 12th annual ‘State of Child Welfare in PA‘ report put together by the advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children also acknowledges that their findings include incomplete data and do not reflect improvements that have since been made to the system.

There were a total of 32,919 child protective service reports in 2020, a 22% decline from 2019. Experts had expected such a decline, with children stuck inside, and unable to be seen by such mandated reporters as teachers and physicians. But just because they weren’t being seen didn’t mean that children weren’t at-risk during the pandemic.

That was borne out by a the number of substantiated reports, which hit a five-year high at 14% being investigated and found to be true, the report showed.

“While substantiation rates did increase, data from 2021 will be significant to see how trends shift as schools resumed in-person instruction. There was subsequently more interaction between mandated reporters, such as teachers, with children and families,” the group’s president and CEO, Kari King, said in a statement.

King said her organization expects the 2021 data to show an increase in referrals, but a decrease in substantiated reports as the state’s child welfare system “struggles to respond to the needs of children experiencing abuse and neglect during an unprecedented time of crisis.”

(Image via Pa. Partnerships for Children)

At the same time, the number of children served by the state’s foster care system similarly declined to 21,689 children in 2020, a 12% decline from 2019 numbers, according to the report.

“With overall reductions in placement, one could assume this translates to better interventions on the front-end of an investigation and correspondingly stabilizes families. However, when we look at the totality of the data from the start of an investigation through placement, the overall reduction correlates to the challenges we know were present due to the pandemic,” King said. “Again, fewer referrals being made by mandated reporters means fewer occasions to identify abuse leading to placement.”

In October, a new state plan took effect aimed at keeping 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 have said the bill represents a historic step forward in protecting and promoting child welfare in the commonwealth, and across the nation.

The plan 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,” Rachael Miller, the advocacy group’s policy director, told the Capital-Star at the time.

(Source: Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children)

The report makes a number of recommendations to policymakers across a wide variety of program areas. But chief among them is improving the state’s efforts to hire and retain qualified workers.

“Front-line workers, those we think of as essential in our communities and across the Commonwealth, include the child welfare caseworkers who hold high-stress, low-reward jobs to help the children and families they serve,” King said. “During the pandemic and beyond, the foster care system works best when it works to keep families together and expedite permanency for foster youth.”

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

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During a Tuesday hearing, a Democratic state Senate committee put the spotlight on Pennsylvania families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction during the pandemic. Marley Parish has the story.

A surge in COVID-19 cases is leading to longer wait times at Pennsylvania hospitals, Cassie Miller reports.

And a state House lawmaker has proposed a Santa tax credit — or at least one that will benefit the elf’s assistants here on Earth. Stephen Caruso has the details.

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Despite a funding cut, this southwestern Pennsylvania organization is still working to revitalize its community. Our partners at the Uniontown Herald-Standard have the story in this morning’s edition of Helping the Helpers.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are demanding an investigation of a doctor who operated on immigrant women in ICE detention, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa writes.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is looking to build affordable housing in city’s Brewerytown neighborhood, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

An abruptly announced “review” of medical marijuana vape products by the Pennsylvania Health Department has medical marijuana patients wondering whether their medication is safe to use, and why state officials chose now to examine products that have been previously approved. Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper have the story.

On our Commentary Page this morning: These clean water bills now before the state House and Senate will benefit hunters, anglers and others who love the outdoors, Harry Campbell of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation writes. And here’s a quick way to arrest democracy’s backsliding: Read and share a banned bookMax McCoy, of our sibling site, the Kansas Reflector, writes.

(Getty Images)

Elsewhere.
Pennsylvania politicians who accepted donations from convicted union boss John Dougherty and IBEW Local 98 aren’t having second thoughts about taking the money, the Inquirer reports.

State officials have switched to a weekly update on COVID-19 cases to give a ‘clearer picture’ of the pandemic, the Post-Gazette reports.

You can expect some ‘hiccups’ sending holiday cards and package through the U.S. Postal Servicebut it won’t be as bad as last yearPennLive reports (subscribers-only).

Bethlehem City Council has moved closer to approving a 2022 city budget, but some issues remain, the Morning Call reports.

The old Red Carpet Inn in downtown Scranton fell to the wrecking ball on Tuesday, the Times-Tribune reports.

Taxpayers in the Central Bucks School District are speaking up about transphobia and anti-Semitism in the district, WHYY-FM reports.

Even as counties sit on millions of dollars in unspent aid, some renters in Pennsylvania have been shut out of a rental relief programSpotlight PA reports (via WITF-FM).

A central Pennsylvania woman has won a court battle over treating her husband’s COVID-19 with ivermectin, the York Daily Record reports (via GoErie).

As hospitals trim services, rural midwives are stepping into the gapStateline.org reports.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.has repeated his call for a ‘strategic pause’ on the White House’s domestic spending package, Roll Call reports.

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What Goes On
9 a.m. & 6 p.m., 523 Irvis/Harrisburg Hilton: Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing
10 a.m., Live Stream: Senate Democratic Policy Committee
10 a.m., Pa. College of Technology, Williamsport: Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill. Admission runs $75 to $5,000.

WolfWatch
Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out this morning to Kait Gillis, of the Gillis Hanna Group, and to reader Becky Ellis, of Reading, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Today marks the 41st anniversary of the shooting death of John Lennon outside his home in New York City. Here’s one of my favorite Lennon songs, it’s ‘(Just Like) Starting Over.’


Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Carolina got past Winnipeg 4-2 in a late game in Manitoba on Tuesday night. The ‘Canes’ Jacob Slavin and Sebastian Aho each had a goal and an assist on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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