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PA Pandemic Toll on Children Shows Progress, Racial Disparity and Recommendations

by Danielle Smith, Keystone State News Connection

Oct 07, 2022

The 13th annual Pennsylvania State of Child Welfare report is out. Children advocates said the 2021 pandemic numbers showed some progress and highlighted ongoing areas of concern.

One major plus: The number of children and youth placed with family or trusted caregivers was the highest in five years, reaching more than 45%.

Rachael Miller, policy director for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, which publishes the report, said it also provides policy recommendations for support and community engagement to keep children with families.

“Placement with relatives or kin is critically important to a child’s well-being and trauma reduction, and we need to work harder and more collaboratively to ensure that children have the opportunity to be placed with kin,” Miller contended. “Every child has the right to be raised by someone they know, trust and have a relationship with, and tangible solutions exist to modifying practices that hinder that.”

The report showed in 2021, more than 20,000 children were served in the foster care system, a decrease of more than 1,000 children from 2020 and the lowest rate in the last five years. On the other hand, child protective service reports increased 13% from 2020 — though all are not substantiated — and cases of repeat child abuse and neglect increased slightly, to reach another five-year high.

The report also found ongoing racial disparities. Black children are disproportionately placed in pre-adoptive homes and institutions, rather than kinship care. They are 4.5 times more likely to reenter foster care, and four times more likely to stay in foster care than white children.

Miller added one of the Partnership’s specific advocacy initiatives focuses on researching policy changes which result in a more equitable system, and the way agencies gather information can make a big difference.

“Having the Department of Human Services, county agencies, and providers producing annual publicly available data that is disaggregated, specifically by race and ethnicity, and gender,” Miller recommended. “But additionally looking at policies and procedures through a racial impact analysis.”

Historically, the voices of the children and parents most effected have been excluded from policy debate and decision-making. The report makes the case the system needs youth and families of color with children in the foster care system to create better and more effective strategies as they are the population most affected.

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