Senate Concurrent Resolution 97 of 1999 (Printer’s No. 1515), adopted December 1, 1999, directed the Joint State Government Commission to establish a legislative task force to study Pennsylvania’s children and youth services delivery system and determine whether it is meeting the needs of at-risk children and families. The resolution specified that the initial area of review should be placement services for children who cannot live with their birth family. Recognizing that the children and youth services delivery system implicates services other than those generally associated with placement, the resolution stipulated that additional issues concerning children and youth services be prioritized and addressed accordingly. The resolution further directed that the task force present its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly at the conclusion of the study. The deadline to present the findings and recommendations was extended to November 30, 2002 by Senate Concurrent Resolution 114 of 2001 (Printer’s No. 1350), adopted November 19, 2001. See the Appendix for the full text of the resolutions.
The task force consists of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives, with Senator Charles W. Dent as chair and Representative Julie Harhart as vice chair. The task force held its organizational meeting on April 12, 2000. The resolution authorized the task force to create an advisory committee to assist it in accomplishing the goals of the study. A 46- member advisory committee was created over the course of several months, which consisted of child advocates; private service providers; foster parents; county children and youth administrators; the Deputy Secretary of the Office of Children, Youth and Families, Department of Public Welfare; the Auditor General; the Attorney General; judges; attorneys for children and parents; educators; a pediatrician and others with experience with the children and youth services delivery system. The advisory committee, chaired by Frank P. Cervone, Executive Director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, held its organizational meeting on June 15, 2000.
Because of the scope of the study and the broad range of issues, the advisory committee was divided into the following four subcommittees to review the children and youth services delivery systems.
- Services and Issues in Placement - Eleanor Bush, chair
- Options Outside of Placement - Susan Dichter, chair
- Accountability - Charles Lockwood (resigned October 2001) and Frank P.Cervone, chairs
- Structural and Systems Issues - Charles A. Seith and Bernadette Bianchi,co-chairs
The subcommittees were charged with focusing on topics considered salient by the advisory committee members. Each subcommittee began its deliberations on September 20, 2000 and met frequently over the next two years. Subsequently, the subcommittees reported their findings and recommendations to the advisory committee for consideration. This report summarizes the deliberations of the subcommittees and the advisory committee and sets forth how the children and youth services delivery system may be improved. Unless otherwise noted, the recommendations in this report were formulated by the subcommittees and approved by the advisory committee.
At its November 20, 2002 meeting, the task force authorized the release of this report and recommended that the task force be reconstituted in the next legislative session in order to hold public hearings on the findings and recommendations in this report.
The report is divided into sixteen separate sections by general topics. The order of these sections does not signify the importance of the topics, nor does it represent the amount of time and attention dedicated to the topics by the advisory committee.
While this report represents the consensus of the subcommittees and the advisory committee gained after numerous meetings from September 2000 to October 2002, it does not necessarily reflect unanimity among the members on each individual recommendation. In addition, inclusion of any finding, recommendation or conclusion in this report does not necessarily reflect the endorsement of the task force or its members.
The proposed legislation is replicated in a separate section near the end of this report, although it is also contained within the individual sections. The comments to the proposed statutory language may be used to determine the intent of the General Assembly.
The following summarizes the deliberations of the four subcommittees.
Services and Issues in Placement
The Subcommittee on Services and Issues in Placement discussed the broad topics of older children in placement, education for children in placement,health care for children in placement, out-of-state and long-distance placements, kinship care, foster parents, assessments and evaluations, concurrent planning, improving access to services, the need to cross-train caseworkers in various disciplines to better identify a family’s needs for services, drug and alcohol addiction treatment and statements of principles of care for children in out-of-home care, parents of such children and foster parents.
With respect to older children in placement, the subcommittee focused on service planning, improved communications with such children and providing additional information to them, issues regarding dependent children who are parents, recruitment of foster families willing to accept dependent teenagers, enhancing the court’s oversight role in children and youth services, cultural preservation and enhancement, driving, health care, post-secondary education, placement options and data collection.
The subcommittee considered various education issues regarding children in placement. Subcommittee members sought ways to improve communication and cooperation between the education system and the children and youth services delivery system. In addition, the subcommittee focused on the issues of prompt enrollment procedures, the need for uniform enrollment and withdrawal forms, assignment to the appropriate school program, the transfer of school records, allowing children to remain in their current school after either placement or reunification with their family, parent and caregiver involvement in school matters, training for foster parents regarding the education system, special education issues and data collection.
Because foster parents play a vital role as caregivers within the children and youth services delivery system, the subcommittee specifically addressed such foster parent issues as improved access to information regarding the foster child, participation in court hearings, support by county children and youth services agencies, the need for a network of experienced foster parents to serve as mentors, cost of living adjustments for foster parent reimbursements, improved procedures regarding situations where there are allegations of abuse by the foster parents and improved recruitment and retention strategies.
Finally, the subcommittee reviewed current statutes and proposed legislation regarding access to drug and alcohol treatment and highlighted the importance of receiving drug and alcohol treatment services to many families involved with the children and youth services delivery system.
Options Outside Placement
The Subcommittee on Options Outside Placement focused primarily on prevention services designed to prevent child abuse and neglect, juvenile dependency, the need for out-of-home care, juvenile delinquency, truancy,dropping out of school and violence. In emphasizing the need for prevention efforts, the subcommittee discussed how to develop a strategy for reducing the number of child placements, how to preserve the family unit and facilitate reunification, where appropriate, and how to improve permanency planning for children and families. The subcommittee’s goal was to develop a framework of family outreach and enhancement programs to help children and families before their difficulties become acute and require more intensive services. The subcommittee reviewed statistics and background information regarding key indicators of child well-being, contributors to maltreatment, the effects of maltreatment and the costs to society, child welfare, child placements and annual expenditures regarding such issues as juvenile justice, incarceration and government assistance.
In analyzing the subject of options outside placement, the subcommittee gathered information from individual subcommittee members and guest speakers including adolescent consumers, parents, caseworkers and representatives from many public and private sector organizations that develop, coordinate and oversee programs and services for children and families. As part of its charge, the subcommittee reviewed specific prevention programs and administrative and fiscal challenges regarding the development and implementation of prevention services.
As a result of its deliberations, the subcommittee discussed the need for an Office of Prevention Services to segregate funds for prevention services and oversee the coordination and delivery of prevention services, which are currently scattered among many departments and agencies. The subcommittee also supported the establishment of county prevention services coordinators to address prevention efforts on a local level, block grants to counties for prevention services and a competitive request for proposal process for public and private agencies and public/private partnerships to submit proposals to receive block grant funds to develop and implement local prevention services.
Finally, the subcommittee discussed the topics of independent living programs, medically fragile children, subsidized permanent legal custodianship, services for incarcerated parents, faith-based institutions, services after a child has been placed for adoption and post-adoption services.
The Subcommittee on Accountability focused largely on issues pertaining to statewide performance evaluations, local case monitoring, confidentiality, judicial training and rotation and open court proceedings.
It is anticipated that Pennsylvania, along with many other states, will be required to submit a performance improvement plan to the federal government based on the Children and Family Service Review performed by the Department of Health and Human Services. In response, the subcommittee recommended that the development of an ongoing systematic statewide performance review would help ensure that the Commonwealth’s children and youth services delivery system continues to meet the needs of children and families.
Local case monitoring is an important function handled by multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) and investigative teams in cases where criminal charges are likely. The subcommittee developed a number of recommendations to improve the performance of MDTs by providing guidance and training at the state level. The subcommittee determined that local investigative teams and the existing statewide Medical/Legal Advisory Board on Child Abuse are effective if they are utilized to their potential and properly coordinated.
The subcommittee favored the creation of a children’s ombudsman, an autonomous entity, that would, among other things, receive, process and investigate complaints against state and county agencies within the children and youth services delivery system. It was believed that the creation of this entity would greatly enhance accountability within the system.
With respect to foster parents, the subcommittee addressed the need to improve the formalized training for foster parents, update informational manuals for foster parents and review the provider contracts of county agencies and private providers to ensure that disclosure of information to foster parents is not unnecessarily restricted.
In reviewing information regarding confidentiality, the subcommittee noted that the Child Protective Services Law (23 Pa.C.S. Chapter 63) includes a detailed provision governing access to Department of Public Welfare and county agency records relating to abuse and neglect. The subcommittee reviewed various aspects of the law and discussed possible amendments, including limited disclosure of information to non-mandatory reporters of abuse, disclosure of essential information to foster parents and access by the Auditor General for official audits.
In discussing how to provide public accountability of the children and youth services delivery system and improve the handling of dependency cases by the courts, attorneys and county agencies, the subcommittee studied the concept of opening dependency court proceedings to the public. Information on opening such hearings was gathered from various sources, including other states that have documented their experiences with open hearings. While acknowledging certain reservations about opening the hearings, the subcommittee ultimately decided to recommend that dependency proceedings be presumed to be open to the public, subject to closing by the presiding judge or master upon a finding of exceptional circumstances.
Judicial training and assignments was another topic addressed by the subcommittee. The subcommittee felt that well-trained and experienced judges are best suited to ensure accurate decisions in matters related to child safety and welfare. Accordingly, it recommended that judges assigned to conduct proceedings under the Juvenile Act (42 Pa.C.S. Chapter 63) retain the assignment for a period of at least three years and that judges be encouraged to preside over as many child welfare cases as possible rather than having court masters handle the majority of those cases. Moreover, the subcommittee believed that improved training of masters, attorneys and guardians ad litem, as well as judges, will enhance the operation of court proceedings.
Finally, the subcommittee discussed the need for an improved reporting system for general protective services cases and the manner in which such cases are reported. To that end, it reviewed the components of the former Pennsylvania Automated Child Welfare Information System (PACWIS).
Structural and Systems Issues
The Subcommittee on Structural and Systems Issues began its deliberations by identifying the systemic challenges within the children and youth services delivery system. This review included an analysis of issues regarding coordination of services and information, continuity and consistency in service planning and delivery, community awareness, recruitment and retention of caseworkers and staff, regulatory requirements and funding difficulties, including the needs-based budgeting process and categorical funding streams. The subcommittee approached its task from the standpoint that the children and youth services delivery system in the Commonwealth is frequently complicated by the multiplicity and complexity of problems faced by children and families, the fragmentation of services among various service providers in the public and private sectors and the diversity of funding streams designated for support of these services. Consequently, access to services needed by children and families is restrictive and confusing and often poorly coordinated. The subcommittee also accepted the premise that comprehensive treatment beginning at the point of initial assessment is more effective than the piecemeal delivery of services that often occurs at the present time. To that end, the subcommittee believed that the focus should be on a holistic approach to service delivery.
Recruitment and retention of caseworkers and staff occupied a great deal of time for the subcommittee. The subcommittee discussed many issues that lead to staff turnover and dissatisfaction, including low salaries, concerns regarding personal safety, lack of professional esteem, paperwork and regulatory requirements, heavy caseloads, unrealistic expectations and the complexity of case assignments. The subcommittee was cognizant that workplace satisfaction must be a focal point, because having qualified, experienced and motivated individuals involved in the children and youth services delivery system is directly related to achieving quality outcomes for children and families.
With respect to funding, the subcommittee recognized that certain aspects of current funding mechanisms create obstacles to the effective and efficient delivery of services. The subcommittee identified several of these obstacles as the inadequacy of current funding levels to cover the full costs of mandated care, restrictive categorical funding streams and the confusing nature of funding, which is exacerbated by the mix of federal, state and local dollars.
In order to improve the children and youth services delivery system, the subcommittee emphasized the need for cross-systems coordination and developed a statutory framework to create a commission at the state level, composed of representatives from various disciplines that provide services to children and families. The role of the commission would be to develop and oversee efforts to provide coordinated services and programs to children and families when such services or programs are under the jurisdiction of more than one department or entity in the Commonwealth. In addition, the subcommittee supported the creation of county cross-systems coordinators who would address similar issues at the local level. The coordination would include community collaborative boards and private service providers and encompass the following disciplines: drug and alcohol addiction treatment and prevention, mental health/mental retardation services, education, housing, job training, child care, managed care, juvenile justice, health care, county assistance, children and youth services, and the court system.