Wolf Administration Announces Federal Funding to Strengthen Family Supports in Child Welfare System (October 9, 2021)

The Wolf Administration announced Pennsylvania’s full implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, prioritizing providing services to children and families in the least restrictive manner and with their families as much as safely possible.

“The Family First Prevention Services Act dovetails with longtime goals of both the Wolf Administration and our county-level partners across Pennsylvania. The implementation of our plan will enhance the impact of work we were already doing to strengthen families and keep children safe with their families, in their homes, whenever and however possible,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead.

The Family First Prevention Services Act gives states the option of using federal funds to administer their child welfare systems differently – and for the first time to utilize federal funding that supports certain evidence-based mental health prevention and treatment, substance use prevention and treatment, and in-home parenting skill-based programs that are delivered to eligible children, youth, and families to help prevent the placement of a child into out-of-home care. In the event placement outside the home occurs, the law directs federal funding toward family-like settings or other specialized settings that are best suited to a child’s individual needs.

Considerable progress has been made in recent years to improve outcomes for children in foster care and their families. For example, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of children in foster care who are placed in kinship care with family. As of April 2021, 44 percent of children in foster care were placed with relatives – compared to 31.5 percent in 2015.

Pennsylvania has also steadily decreased its use of congregate settings – such as institutions or group homes – in Pennsylvania’s foster care system. In 2015, 17.1 percent of Pennsylvania children in foster care were in congregate settings. By 2019, that dropped to 12.7 percent. The overall number of children entering foster care is also on the decline. Between 2019 and 2020, 2,797 fewer children entered foster care. Currently, there are about 14,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania.

2020 Child Abuse Report

In strengthening the child welfare system through a greater focus on prevention and use of evidence-based programs and services, Pennsylvania aims to reduce instances of child abuse and neglect. This week, DHS released the 2020 annual Child Protective Services Report, which includes statewide and county-level data relevant to the child welfare system in the previous year.

The total number of Child Protective Services (CPS) reports received dropped about 22 percent between 2019 and 2020. CPS reports are reports of incidents that meet the definition of child abuse contained in the Child Protective Services Law. While the total number of CPS reports fell significantly, the total number of substantiated reports fell slightly — from 4,865 in 2019 to 4,593 in 2020. These are the CPS reports that – after investigation – indicated that child abuse had in fact occurred. 

In terms of overall sources of the reports from 2019 to 2020, Pennsylvania saw a predictable drop in reports from school employees — from 12,990 in 2019 to 5,780 in 2020. However, reports from permissive reporters – those who, by law, do not have to report suspected child abuse — remained at almost the exact same level as 2019.

Sadly, Pennsylvania saw significant increases in both child fatalities and child near fatalities substantiated as the result of child abuse between 2019 and 2020. In 2019, 51 children died and 93 children nearly died as the result of child abuse. In 2020, 73 children died and 115 children nearly died as a result of child abuse.

“Pennsylvania’s child welfare system did not stop or slow down at any time during 2020. ChildLine remained fully operational. County and DHS caseworkers continued investigating reports. Families continued receiving services they needed,” Acting Secretary Snead said. “In all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, child welfare workers as well as mandated and permissive reporters adapted to a changed world so families could continue to receive support and children can grow up safely and cared for. The value of their work is immeasurable, and I want to say thank you on behalf of the Wolf Administration and the commonwealth.”

To learn more about Family First and how to report potential child abuse or neglect, visit www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov.

CDC Reiterates School Quarantine Guidance as States and Districts Shorten Requirements (September 30, 2021)

On Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its quarantine guidance for K-12 schools. The CDC has reiterated its recommendations  due to a number of states and school districts that have shortened the length of periods of quarantine. CDC asserts that those unvaccinated who come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 should immediately quarantine for 14 days unless instructed otherwise by a school official.

The CDC also advises that vaccinated individuals who are close contacts of people diagnosed with COVID-19 don’t need to quarantine, but they should be tested 3-5 days following known exposure and continue to wear a mask indoors for the following 14 days.

According to K-12 Dive, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which is keeping track of COVID-19 responses in the nation’s 100 largest school systems, many school districts across the country have shortened quarantine periods and clarified protocols since the start of the school year.

For quarantine guidelines from the CDC, click here.

Sources: K-12 Dive and the CDC.

FCC Second Filing Window for Connectivity Funds Open Until Oct. 13th (September 29, 2021)

On Tuesday, September 28th,  the Federal Communications Commission officially opened the second filing window for the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, which can be used by schools and libraries for the purchase of laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connections to serve unmet needs for off-premises use by students, school staff and library patrons, according to an FCC press release.
The filing deadline is October 13, 2021 and requests for funding would be for the purchase of eligible equipment and services received or delivered between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.

CDC Studies Show Masks Help Keep Students Safe from COVID-19 (September 26, 2021)

According to USA Today, two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies released on September 24, 2021 found that COVID-19 outbreaks and pediatric cases were more common when schools did not mandate masks.

One study of about 1,000 schools in two Arizona counties showed schools without mask mandates were 3.5 times more likely to have outbreaks than schools that started the year with a mask mandate. Another study of hundreds of U.S. counties found an increased rate of pediatric COVID-19 cases in areas where schools didn’t have mask mandates.

The findings support the assertion that: masks provide instantaneous protection from infection and, in combination with other prevention strategies, including vaccination, are critical in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

A third study revealed that, thus far this school year, COVID-19 Outbreaks have resulted in nearly 2,000 school closures.

For more from USA Today, click here.

PDE Provides Memo on Fiscal Training, Including IDEA-B, 611; and ARP Supplemental IDEA Funds (September 23, 2021)

On September 20, 2021, PDE BSE Director Carole L. Clancy disseminated a PennLink memo titled Fiscal Training, including IDEA-B, 611; and ARP Supplemental IDEA Funds. It informed recipients that the Federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has oversight of states’ compliance with federal special education regulations and requirements.

OSEP has incorporated a component of its compliance monitoring verification visits to include a fiscal verification review. Some components of its fiscal verification review will include a review of the use of funds for coordinated early intervening services, maintenance of effort, and general use of federal, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B (IDEA-B), and American Rescue Plan (ARP) Supplemental IDEA funds.

To assist the local educational agencies (LEAs) in working with these components of the federal on-site visits, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is providing training to familiarize special education directors and business administrators with clarifying information. This training will address the following topics: IDEA -B, 611; and ARP Supplemental IDEA Fiscal Programming, Contingency Funding, ACT 16, and Approved Private School Electronic Management System.

It is required that each school district and charter school send participants to this training. Because the training is highlighting the fiscal program data verifications associated with the IDEA-B fiscal reporting requirements, it is strongly recommended that the participants attending this training are the special education director and business administrator. Also, if a school district or charter school contracts for business services, its contracted business representative should attend.

In-person training sessions will be held in October and early November, with dates to be announced. Virtual sessions will be scheduled and recorded in case of updated COVID travel restrictions. Registration and session information is available at https://www.pattan.net/events/.

Any questions regarding the fiscal training should be directed to Dr. Del Hart, Chief, Division of Analysis & Financial Reporting, at 717.772.1114 or dehart@pa.gov. Any questions about registration should be directed to Karen Weaver at PaTTAN-Pittsburgh, 412-826-6842 or kweaver@pattanpgh.net.