OCDEL Provides School-Age Child Care Resources Info (September 11, 2020)

The Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) anticipates an increased need for child care during the typical school day due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As public and private schools announce and begin modified attendance and instructional models for the 2020-21 school year, working families will need access to child care for their school-age children.

OCDEL licenses child care providers and has issued a clarification for operation of non-licensed part-day school-age child care (SACC) programs or Learning Pods for the 2020-21 school year as a strategy to support the needs of working families.

OCDEL has developed the Resources for Care and Education of School-Age Children due to COVID-19 document to assist families in navigating SACC programs for the current school year. 

For additional information and SACC options, please visit the Pennsylvania Key website.

HB 2787 Governing Extracurriculars Heads to Governor’s Desk (September 11, 2020)

 HB 2787 is headed to the Governor’s desk for signature, but it is unclear as to whether he will sign or veto the bill, which gives the governing body of a school entity the exclusive authority to determine whether to hold sports and other in-person extracurricular activities during the 2020-21 school year.

If passed and signed into law, HB 2787 would provide the governing body of a school entity or nonpublic school to have the exclusive authority to determine whether to hold school sports activities, including competitions, intramural play and scrimmages, and other in-person extracurricular activities during the 2020-21 school year. It would also require a school entity to develop an athletic, health and safety plan addressing school sports and other in-person extracurricular activities (as long as a plan includes spectator limits and protocols for such activities and is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Considerations for Youth Sports), and provide for the content of the plans. It would also require the exclusion of students or staff from school buildings or activities if they test positive for COVID-19 and would add nonpublic schools to the list of school entities required to develop a health and safety plan for activities and athletics.

To view the bill, click here.

Wolf Administration Releases Suicide Prevention Plan, Reminds Pennsylvanians that They are Never Alone (September 11, 2020)

On September 10, 2020, the PA Department of Human Services (DHS) disseminated a press release on behalf of the Wolf Administration, members of the General Assembly, and Prevent Suicide PA that recognized World Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Month and released Pennsylvania’s Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan. The plan, which was developed by the state’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, is a four-year strategy to reduce suicide in Pennsylvania by fighting stigma, increasing training and education on suicide and mental health, improving data collection for suicide, and supporting clinical practices and treatment to prevent suicide and help those who are struggling or in crisis know that things can and will get better.

“Too often, shame and stigma prevent someone from talking openly about suicide, but mental health difficulties and personal crises can touch all of us. Suicide can be extremely isolating for attempt survivors and loss survivors, so it is important to know that you are not alone. We all have a role to play in supporting people in crisis and preventing suicide. If you or someone you know has struggled with mental health or suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to reach out. Help is available,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “I am incredibly proud of the work every person on the task force did to create the Suicide Prevention Plan. This was a large undertaking and underscored the importance of collaboration between many groups to achieve such a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. This is an important step, and this plan will help save lives across Pennsylvania.”

“Suicide is a complex policy problem that requires complex solutions,” said Representative Mike Schlossberg. “This task force created this plan based on input from survivors, family members and professional from across the state. One suicide is too high. Thousands are tragedies. We need to do whatever we can to address this crisis.”

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and September recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the country, claiming more than twice as many lives each year as homicide. In Pennsylvania, 2,017 people completed suicide in 2018 (up from 1,272 suicides in 1999), reflecting a 43.3 percent increase in the age-adjusted suicide rate. Approximately 1.4 million adults attempt suicide annually in the United States, with more than 85 percent reporting having made a suicide plan prior to their attempt. Throughout September, we remember those lost to suicide and support loss and suicide attempt survivors and all who experience suicidal ideation every day. We must build an open dialogue around suicide so anyone who is struggling can discuss what they are experiencing and feel safe, supported, and know that help is available.  

In 2019, the Wolf Administration announced the formation of a statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force comprised of leadership from Prevent Suicide PA, members of the General Assembly, and the departments of Human Services (DHS), Health (DOH), Corrections (DOC), Aging (PDA), Education (PDE), Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), Transportation (PennDOT), Agriculture (PDA), Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP). Because suicide is so far-reaching, this diverse array of expertise is necessary to build a comprehensive prevention plan.

From late August through early December 2019, the task force held 10 listening sessions across Pennsylvania. More than 800 Pennsylvanians shared their stories of how suicide and mental health difficulties impact their lives and communities and made recommendations to inform the task force as they developed the statewide plan.

In January 2020, the task force released an initial report, which included key themes heard during the task force listening sessions. The goals and objectives of the task force were refined based on public feedback. 

The final Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan lays out the task force’s findings into actionable themes with eight specific goals and objectives:

  • Goal 1: Reduce stigma and promote safety, help-seeking, and wellness by increasing suicide awareness and prevention education.
  • Goal 2: Promote trauma-informed approaches to support all Pennsylvania residents as part of our suicide prevention efforts by coordinating with Pennsylvania’s Trauma-Informed Care Task Force.
  • Goal 3: Provide quality training on the prevention of suicide and management of suicide risk across multiple sectors and settings.
  • Goal 4: Promote screening to identify individuals at risk for suicide across sectors, including health care, behavioral health, educational and correctional settings.
  • Goal 5: Promote and implement effective clinical and professional practices for assessing and treating those identified as at risk for suicidal behaviors.
  • Goal 6: Provide trauma-informed care and support to individuals affected by suicide deaths or attempts to promote healing.
  • Goal 7: Promote safety among individuals with identified suicide risk, including firearms safety and awareness of the relationship between opioids and other substances to increased risk of suicide.
  • Goal 8: Improve the capacity to utilize data reporting systems relevant to suicide and improve the ability to collect, analyze, and use the information in a timely manner so we can inform further suicide prevention efforts.

Moving forward, the task force will continue working with stakeholders at the local, regional, and state levels to support and monitor the implementation of the plan, and will begin with developing measurable, achievable action items. 

“Before suicide, there is stress, depression, and other treatable triggers. My hope is to build a community where we normalize addressing stressors before suicidal thoughts appear,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “The Department of Agriculture is at this table because the Ag community can be more susceptible to depression and suicide. Farmers face stress and very little change of scenery. We live where we work, and it can feel like we are in a silo with no way out. Just as animals and crops demand tending, our own physical and mental health require our attention. I’ve found comfort in learning that most people can get better. The hard part is asking for help. If you feel depressed or have a numbness of emotions, you are not alone. With treatment, you can feel joy again.”

“Our roadways connect people to work, school, and recreation and we want everyone to arrive safely,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “We are proud to be members of this Task Force and contribute to its important efforts.” 

“The Pennsylvania Department of Aging is proud of the work of the Suicide Prevention Task Force.  Suicide prevention is very relevant to us because of our role in advocating for and serving older Pennsylvanians who are more prone to social isolation and depression than any other age group.  Because of their vulnerability, older adults are at a much higher risk of suicide as they age,” said Aging Secretary Robert Torres. “The Department of Aging has resources that can help older adults who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.  We look forward to working with our many partners to implement this plan and help prevent cases of older adult suicides in the commonwealth.”

“The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) has made suicide awareness and prevention a key priority, especially since veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the DMVA. “We are committed to working every day with our community partners toward the common goal of reducing suicide across the spectrum to zero. We are grateful for the opportunity to join with other state agencies to raise awareness to help save lives and make a difference within our families.”

“The conversation about preventing veterans suicide, is the same conversation about increasing meaningful supports, rapid access to robust resources, a genuine appreciation of military service and family support, leaving a veteran feeling dignified and filled with hope when they look for help and the normalization of talking about mental health challenges,” said James Stafford, Certified Peer Specialist at Supportive Services for Veteran Families. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal ideation or have in past, know that help is always available:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
  • The Spanish-language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-888-628-9454
  • For the Mental Health Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
  • Support and Referral Helpline: 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.

These free resources are available 24/7. If you are concerned about someone else’s well-being, these resources can help you be a life-saving assistance. No matter what you are going through, help is available. 

“Suicide does not discriminate and has the ability to impact people from all walks of life. The significance of Pennsylvania unveiling a comprehensive suicide prevention plan which included input from those in our communities most affected cannot be overstated. By bringing together leadership from numerous state agencies and organizations to address our need to better prevent suicide, we have taken a monumental step to extend our prevention efforts beyond the mental health system and examine a true public health approach. Prevent Suicide PA was proud to be part of this collaboration and looks forward to working with state representatives on its implementation,” said Dr. Matthew Wintersteen, executive board member of Prevent Suicide PA. 

Read the final report of Pennsylvania’s Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan here. Members of the public can submit feedback on the plan at RA-PWSuicidePreventn@pa.gov.

PCCD Announces the Availability of State School Safety and Security Funds (September 10, 2020)

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s (PCCD) School Safety and Security Committee has announced the availability of state School Safety and Security funds to implement projects to address violence in Pennsylvania’s communities.  One aspect of Act 44 of 2018 provided for up to $7.5 million in funding for local efforts to reduce and/or prevent violence for certain specific purposes.  These purposes include: 

  • Increasing access to quality trauma-informed support services and behavioral health care by linking the community with local trauma support and behavioral health systems; 
  • Providing health services and intervention strategies by coordinating the services provided by eligible applicants and coordinated care organizations, public health entities, nonprofit youth service providers and community-based organizations; 
  • Providing mentoring and other intervention models to children and their families who have experienced trauma or are at risk of experiencing trauma, including those who are low-income, homeless, in foster care, involved in the criminal justice system, unemployed, experiencing a mental illness or substance abuse disorder or not enrolled in or at risk of dropping out of an educational institution; 
  • Fostering and promoting communication between the school entity, community and law enforcement; or 
  • Any other program or model designed to reduce community violence and approved by the committee.  

For FY20-21, the School Safety and Security Committee (SSSC) has prioritized applications that intend to utilize evidence-based or evidence-informed programs to reduce or prevent community-based violence (e.g., gun violence, gang violence, etc.) in areas identified with high-violent crime rates using Uniform Crime Report offense data or similar local crime statistics.  This prioritization does not preclude any other application for any other type of community violence prevention but does mean that applications collectively addressing these areas will receive priority in the review process. 

Applications are due in PCCD’s Egrants System by November 10, 2020.  Recommended applications will be approved at the January 2021 School Safety and Security Committee meeting, and all projects will have a targeted start date of February 1, 2021.  For full application requirements, applicants are encouraged to read and print the narrative funding announcement and use it as a guide to complete their applications in the Egrants System.  

Click here for more information or visit: https://www.pccdegrants.pa.gov/Egrants/Public/OpenAnnouncements.aspx

Agencies Express Concern Over FEMA Plan to Cut COVID-19 Reimbursement (September 5, 2020)

On September 1, 2020, a number of national organizations sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to express concern with recent information from FEMA indicating the agency intends to eliminate personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfectants as eligible reimbursable expenses under Public Assistance for COVID-19.

According to the letter, “[a]ll plans for schools to reopen include built-in requirements for PPE. PPE is a fundamental element of any COVID-19 operation.” However, the letter states that FEMA is planning a policy guidance change that would remove PPE and disinfectants as eligible reimbursable expenses for COVID-19, which the organizations call a continuation of “a troubling pattern of shifting costs and responsibilities onto state and local governments, including state and local education agencies, when they can least afford it.”

The letter also goes on to say that “changing policy guidance in the middle of a pandemic is impractical, sows confusion, unnecessarily complicates the process of reopening, and disrupts daily operations for all those impacted, including our schools”…and that…”FEMA and the Administration have long maintained that every disaster is federally supported, state managed, and locally executed. We ask FEMA to waive the state cost share for COVID-19 assistance,to maintain thecurrent guidance on emergency protective measures, and encourage the Administration to provide clear guidance on eligibility of funding streams from across the federal government.”

Thus far, there has been no response from FEMA.

To view the letter in its entirety, click here.