East Falls Local Article: Our Children are Our Future

This session is the first time I serve in the role of minority chairman for one of the PA House committees.  Chairmanships are awarded based on seniority and as the ranking member of this committee I look forward to influencing policy related to our child welfare system. I had served on this committee previously as a rank-and-file member for four years.

The Children & Youth Committee plays a vital role in the oversight and review of legislation related to children and youth welfare. Our committee’s jurisdiction includes issues covered by the Departments of Human Services, Education, Health, Insurance, Drug and Alcohol and the Courts. The committee researches, reviews, and votes on issues that affect many segments of our children and youth population.

As minority chair, my plan is to ensure advocates and stakeholders have an opportunity for input consistently and timely. These third parties represent many varied interests and are nuanced in the impact of the policy under discussion.

Working across the aisle is a critical part of my plan. Often policy is developed by one party or the other, however, the best policy is developed by a joint effort.

At of the time of this writing, the committee has convened four times, holding three informational hearings and one voting meeting.

The initial meeting focused on an overview of the child welfare system. Pennsylvania is one of only eleven ­states that operates in a decentralized manner as each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties operates its own children and youth agency with oversight from the state.

Over the course of the three informational meetings, our committee has been presented with information on the importance of the ChildLine hotline (800-932-0313) in providing citizens a 24/7 resource to report suspected child abuse or neglect, the need for additional support for child caseworkers, and the critical role played by the courts. 

A second meeting was convened to better understand the impact COVID-19 has had on working families and the state of childcare across the commonwealth.

Since the pandemic began, some childcare facilities have closed and many people, especially women, have left the workforce to care for their young children. This sector is vitally important to economic recovery.  Staff turnover and the inability to attract new hires continues to impact providers’ ability to operate efficiently.  State subsidized childcare rates have not been raised in years. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature to find ways to help childcare providers recover economically.

The committee also had the opportunity to hear about the Keystone STARS Program which supports all early childcare and education programs to improve program quality and impacts services to the children and families using childcare in Pennsylvania.

Our third hearing discussed Pennsylvania’s transition to the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018.

This Act 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 when foster care is needed, helps ensure children are placed in the most family-like setting appropriate to their needs.

This hearing gave our committee a better understanding of the important role preventative care services, like mental health services and substance abuse treatment for parents, play in keeping children safe and families together.

Our first voting meeting the committee passed two bills.

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.

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.

I will continue to listen to identify those areas of law that need to be enhanced or changed to better serve our children and their families. I look forward to building on this discussion with my colleagues and finding bipartisan solutions that strengthen the programs and services intended to put the safety of our children first.