DeLissio reviews the recent work of the Children and Youth Committee

HARRISBURG, April 1 – State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, minority chair of the House Children and Youth Committee, supported two bills during the committee’s first voting meeting March 24.  

H.B. 954 would allow law enforcement agencies to share investigative information related to child abuse cases with children and youth agencies, multidisciplinary teams, and other authorized entities who can collectively support investigations of child abuse. Currently, police departments are only allowed to share such information with other criminal justice agencies.

“The way the law is set up now can lead to unnecessary barriers and duplicative efforts that can end up prolonging a child abuse investigation,” said DeLissio, D-Phila/Montgomery. “It often may require a child having to relive their experience by repeating their claim of abuse. Permitting law enforcement to disseminate their findings can help strengthen collaborative efforts, make the investigative process more efficient and ultimately improve the outcome for children in a timelier fashion.”

H.B. 200 would qualify children born to mothers considered to be at high risk of postpartum depression to be screened for and, if needed, to receive early intervention services. Services might include but would not be limited to family training, social work services, counseling, and home visits.

“Many mothers suffer from postpartum depression after giving birth, which can lead to long-term complications for them and adversely impact their baby’s development,” explained DeLissio. “I’m a firm believer that making postpartum depression a risk factor for early intervention services will lead to long-term cost savings and benefit the overall physical and mental health of the child and mother.”

DeLissio said both bills passed out of committee March 24 with bipartisan support.

Earlier, on March 17, the House Children and Youth Committee held a hearing to discuss Pennsylvania’s transition to the Family First Prevention Services Act.

The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 represents the most significant reform to federal child welfare policy in decades. It includes historic reforms to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care, emphasizes the importance of children growing up in families, and helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their special needs when foster care is needed.

Officials with Casey Family Programs, a national foundation focused on foster care and child welfare, testified that Family First shifts federal funding from congregate care, such as group homes, and reimburses states for certain evidence-based, preventative services which prove helpful in keeping children at risk from entering the child welfare system.

The committee also heard from the deputy secretary of the Office of Children Youth and Families, Jon Rubin, who explained that Pennsylvania has seen a 20% reduction in congregate care settings over the past two years. However, while Family First gives the commonwealth the opportunity to draw down on federal prevention dollars, the deputy secretary pointed out that it comes at a loss for youth in congregate care facilities.

The federal reimbursement changes take effect on Oct. 1.

“This hearing gave our committee a better understanding of what Family First means for the commonwealth and the important role preventative care services, like mental health services and substance abuse treatment for parents, play in keeping children safe and families together,” said DeLissio. “The testimony also highlighted the need to take the necessary steps to ensure those in congregate care aren’t left behind.”

In order to be fully eligible for this funding, Pennsylvania must submit a prevention plan explaining how Family First will be implemented across the commonwealth and have it approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services commits to submitting a plan well before October.

Only 10 states have had their Family First prevention plans approved and 9 states are awaiting approval. Of those 9 states, 2 have state supervised and county administered systems similar to Pennsylvania.

Other testifiers at the March 17 hearing included the deputy director of Allegheny County Children, Families, and Youth Services and the assistant administrator of the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services.