Major Changes Proposed In Child Welfare Practices

Sep 24, 2012

A state lawmaker is calling for changes in local child welfare practices, which could save the commonwealth money by moving children out of costly foster care and institutions. Meantime, child welfare advocates are asking to clarify legislation about the process of placing and counseling children.

The two measures aim to involve family members in the placement of children who receive services from Pennsylvania’s county child welfare offices.  Both bills would impose new rules about searching for next of kin and meeting with a child’s extended family.

State Representative Dan Moul (R-Adams)  is proposing all county child welfare offices annually renew their search for next of kin of children in foster care or a county facility. 

“These kids get tied up and lost in the system because some counties don’t bother to hunt for families,” Moul said. 

He added that it’ll be up to the state to enforce the law by inspecting the local child welfare offices.

"And if they’re not doing it right, I’m sure that they’ll come up with regulations that’ll bring them into compliance.  I don’t write regulations, I write statute."

His second proposal would require county case workers to meet annually or at crucial points with a child’s extended family, to make better-informed decisions about placing the child in foster care or with a relative.

At a recent hearing, child welfare advocates offered differing views on when the family conferencing should be required; as soon as a case worker opens a file on a child, or sometime later. Moul says he’ll address concerns raised by welfare advocates about the family conferencing measure.

He says the bill could ultimately save the state money, because the policies could lead to fewer children in foster care or government-run homes.

No analysis has yet been done on the potential costs of legislation, either to county Children and Youth offices, or to the state’s enforcement efforts.