Report shows growth in Pa. in-home services

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HARRISBURG -- The state is making progress in providing in-home services to families and reducing the number of children who must be placed in foster care, according to a report that will be released today.

While 29,024 Pennsylvania children were in foster care in 2009, that number fell to 21,416 in 2013 -- a 26 percent decline, according to the report from child advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

The number of kids receiving in-home services increased by 11 percent in the same period -- from 155,264 children in 2009 to 172,518 in 2013. In-home services can include counseling for parents and kids, or parenting strategies from a social worker or county child welfare staffer coming to the home.

Such in-home services are considered a more proactive, preventative way to keep families together before resorting to foster care; they are also far less costly than foster care.

"Pennsylvania's family-focused approach is helping to reduce the number of children placed in foster care and drive down the overall foster care population," the report says.

The trend has also been seen in Allegheny County, said Marc Cherna, Department of Human Services director.

Data from the study show the number of children in foster care in Allegheny County went from 3,410 kids in 2009 to 2,484 children in 2013, a drop of 27.2 percent.

The report also says that while a number of child abuse-related bills were passed by the Legislature and signed into law last year, several bills remain that have not been passed.

The bills, those passed and those still being considered, were part of a package of legislation that aimed to improve the state's systems of defining and reporting child abuse and were recommended by a task force in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

"We can't be satisfied with our work until every piece of child protection legislation the General Assembly has been working on reaches the governor's desk," said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, in a statement accompanying the report.

Other child protection bills that remain pending include laws to repeal a separate standard of "student abuse," to eliminate "chain of command" child abuse reporting in institutions, and to increase the use of confidential and secure electronic submission and dissemination of child abuse reports to improve the investigation process, according to the statement.

The report also cautions the changes to Pennsylvania's child protection laws "likely will result in an increase in child abuse reporting and substantiation in the years ahead. This could lead to more families interacting with the child welfare system and require more state and local resources to deal with the increased caseloads."


Kate Giammarise: 1-717-787-4254 or kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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