Sen­a­tors Baker, Sch­wank push re­form of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Child Wel­fare Sys­tem

Es­tab­lish In­ter­branch Com­mis­sion to help cre­ate safer con­di­tions for chil­dren in need of homes

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - LOCAL NEWS - From Sen. Sch­wank’s Of­fice

Stat­ing that child pro­tec­tion is a fore­most govern­ment re­spon­si­bil­ity, two state Sen­a­tors have launched a push to re­form laws, reg­u­la­tions, and fund­ing for Penn­syl­va­nia’s child wel­fare sys­tem. Sen­a­tors Lisa Baker, R-20th, and Judy Sch­wank, D-11th, who lead the Se­nate Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, are look­ing to es­tab­lish an In­ter­branch Com­mis­sion on the Child Wel­fare Sys­tem to help cre­ate safer con­di­tions for the thou­sands of chil­dren who find them­selves in need of lov­ing, nur­tur­ing homes.

For many years, the sys­tem of chil­dren and youth ser­vices has lacked the pri­or­ity, the fund­ing, and the over­sight it war­rants. When re­sources are stretched too thin and short­com­ings go un­ad­dressed, heinous acts oc­cur and heart­break­ing tragedies re­sult.

“While we have read about sev­eral hor­rific cases of child abuse, the truth is too many chil­dren in su­per­vised sit­u­a­tions suf­fer death, se­ri­ous in­juries, or en­dure abysmal liv­ing con­di­tions,” they stated. “The fault for this falls on all of us, ir­re­spec­tive of party or ad­min­is­tra­tion or political phi­los­o­phy. “

“Re­cent in­ci­dents of chil­dren who were abused and died in the foster care sys­tem con­firm that we need to in­ves­ti­gate our foster care and adop­tion sys­tem,” Sch­wank said. “The pro­posed In­ter­branch Com­mis­sion on the Child Wel­fare Sys­tem, which will en­gage all branches of govern­ment to pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions on im­prov­ing the care and pro­tec­tion of chil­dren, is a se­ri­ous un­der­tak­ing. We have a solemn obli­ga­tion to care for those in our so­ci­ety who are most vul­ner­a­ble – Penn­syl­va­nia’s chil­dren in foster care are per­haps the most at risk.”

A spe­cial “State of the Child” re­port re­leased last year de­tailed some alarm­ing de­fi­cien­cies. Declar­ing that the “child wel­fare sys­tem is bro­ken,” Au­di­tor Gen­eral Eu­gene DePasquale said that de­spite nearly $2 bil­lion in state spend­ing, 46 chil­dren died in 2016, while an­other 79 nearly per­ished. Of the fa­tal­i­ties, al­most half of those chil­dren had been placed with fam­i­lies al­ready known by Chil­dren and Youth Ser­vices.

“This dis­cus­sion is not an indictment of the many ca­pa­ble, ded­i­cated, and ac­com­plished folks in­volved in the sys­tem. The prob­lems have been ev­i­dent for some time and are largely struc­tural, rather than ev­i­dence of poor per­for­mance,” Baker said. “It is hard to es­cape the con­clu­sion that the sys­tem is un­der­funded and over­bur­dened.”

As part of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the com­mis­sion will be asked to de­ter­mine how the child wel­fare sys­tem failed in re­cent cases of death, or the near death, of chil­dren in the child wel­fare sys­tem; re­store pub­lic con­fi­dence in the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren and en­sure they are ad­e­quately safe­guarded; and of­fer rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove the child wel­fare sys­tem and pre­vent the re­oc­cur­rence of abuse.

Baker noted that the panel is pat­terned af­ter the In­ter­branch Com­mis­sion on Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice, which did an out­stand­ing job of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the hor­rific cir­cum­stances of the Kids-for-Cash scan­dal in Luzerne County, and in de­vel­op­ing an ex­ten­sive se­ries of re­form rec­om­men­da­tions, the ma­jor­ity of which were im­ple­mented.

“Ad­vo­cacy from our com­mu­ni­ties has not been lack­ing,” Baker added. “The de­fi­ciency has been in ef­fec­tive ac­tion, mak­ing sure that money and man­power match what we put in law and reg­u­la­tion, and most of all, what chil­dren at risk need from us. A com­mis­sion pro­vided the light and the lead­er­ship on ju­ve­nile jus­tice, so we have ev­ery­thing to gain by ap­ply­ing that ap­proach to the cur­rent cri­sis in child pro­tec­tion.”

Se­nate Bill 1087 earned unan­i­mous sup­port in the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mit­tee to­day and moves on to con­sid­er­a­tion by the full Se­nate.

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