East Falls Now Article: New Role; Significant Impact

At the beginning of the year, I announced that I anticipated being appointed as a minority chair of a House standing committee. Appointments are made based on seniority and it was indeed astounding that after 5 terms I had achieved that seniority. By comparison, my predecessor served for 18 years and did not achieve that seniority.

My appointment was to the Children & Youth Committee, a committee I had the opportunity to serve on from 2015 to 2018.

As minority chair, I have established a good working relationship with the majority chair and offer input regularly to the topics that I believe the committee should address. 

Those topics include: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs); a review of the mental health resources available in the child welfare system; refining the definition of child abuse.

ACEs have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood between birth and 17 years of age. Our policy should ideally consider the benefits of trauma informed care and we should not be supporting policy that can exacerbate ACEs. I believe it would be interesting to have Children & Youth committee members take the ACEs quiz and indeed, it would be an enlightening experience for the entire House to take this quiz.

As a result of my recommendation, the committee has scheduled an informational hearing in early December on this topic.

Another recommendation I offered was to hold an informational session on children in the child welfare system and the mental health resources available to them. This pandemic has impacted all of us and it would be interesting to hear of its impact specifically on the children in the child welfare system and those responsible for ensuring that system is functioning, specifically as it relates to mental health access.  As we come out of this pandemic what are the lessons learned, and what additional safeguards do we need to put in place? The informational session that will take  place on August 25 focuses on the broader topic of mental health services and the public school system.  This meeting is a joint event between the Education and Children & Youth Committees, and we will focus on the projected mental health needs of public school students, how schools identify and assist a student with mental health needs, and how those services are funded. An additional focus will be on where schools have seen success in meeting students’ mental health needs and on any barriers and challenges that remain.

My 3rd recommendation is for the committee to understand the benefits of refining the definition of child abuse. During a meeting with a well-respected policy and advocacy organization, it was suggested that abuse due to poverty versus abuse due to neglect should be differentiated. For example, if a parent is working multiple jobs and is barely scraping by (because, you know, we do not ensure a living/sustainable wage) and that parent cannot afford to keep the heat on sufficiently, that is not neglect- it is poverty.  I am hopeful that an informational meeting can be scheduled for the spring on this topic.

During my first 7 months as minority chair, I have ensured that stakeholders have consistently been included in discussions about legislation that is considered by the committee.  Over the years, on a variety of committees, I have seen stakeholders not contacted timely or in some instances at all. Stakeholders represent many varied interests and are often highly nuanced pertaining to the impact of the policy under discussion.

I have also had the opportunity to negotiate substantive amendments to the legislation voted on by the committee.  My time and efforts to build working relationships and friendships ‘across the aisle’ support my efforts to amend and enhance legislation. Very few bills prime sponsored by Democrats are considered for votes, therefore the amendment process is crucial.

As the minority chair, I have produced a quick read monthly e-newsletter, informing House members and stakeholders about the work of the committee. This e-newsletter has been well received. All monthly e-newsletters can be viewed on my website www.RepDeLissio.com/NewsCenter.

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, or experiences with the child welfare system, please share with me via email at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or call the office for an appointment at 215-482-8726.