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Foster care population declines in Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 12:13 a.m.
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Pennsylvania did a better job of keeping youngsters out of foster care last year, but child advocates want to ensure that the state does not cut services that help keep kids at home.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, a nonprofit child advocacy group in Harrisburg, on Wednesday released its 2012 State of Child Welfare report.

“The biggest takeaway in this report is that we are doing things in the child welfare system to effectively decrease the number of children entering foster care and decrease the overall foster care population,” said Mark Race, spokesman for the group.

The number of children from birth to age 20 in Pennsylvania who are in foster care declined from 24,229 in 2010 to 22,443 in 2011, a 7.4 percent decrease, according to the report.

Race credits the decrease of youths in foster care to the availability of in-home services such as counseling and visits from a nurse practitioner.

“If you're a new parent, a single mom, you may not know how to cope with stress. In-home services help parents and identify issues that could grow into neglect and abuse,” he said.

Race noted that the data does not cover 2012, when the child sex-abuse case involving former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky dominated the news and raised awareness of the issue.

Race said his group is concerned that state officials dealing with Pennsylvania's financial problems might be tempted to reduce in-home services.

“What we're saying is that's a losing proposition,” he said.

Race praised Allegheny County's benchmarks. The number of children here whose families received in-home services rose from 14,769 in 2010 to 17,695 in 2011. That's an increase of 20 percent.

During that period, the number of children whose families received such services throughout the state declined from 168,821 to 164,842.

The number of children in foster care in Allegheny County declined from 2,859 to 2,796 during the period.

In Westmoreland County, the rate of substantiated child abuse reports — those proven to be founded after an initial call — increased from 9 percent in 2010 to 11.8 percent last year.

Children whose families get in-home services dropped from 5,932 to 2,946 in Westmoreland. The number of children in foster care rose from 407 to 439.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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