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Focus on foster care in Pa. yields falling numbers

| Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A six-year effort by the state court system and child welfare agencies has reduced by a third the number of abused or neglected Pennsylvania children in foster care or similar settings, a process that officials say has improved the lives of some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

The number of dependent children placed in temporary care fell from 21,400 in 2006 to 14,100 at the end of March, figures released this week by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts show. The numbers dropped 44 percent in Allegheny County, home to the city of Pittsburgh, and 35 percent in Philadelphia.

“At one level, it's absurdly simple,” said Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, who helped begin the push seven years ago with the help of federal grant money. “It's identifying individuals — competent individuals — who will take responsibility for these kids day in and day out, and will help raise these kids.”

Officials say a number of systemic changes are behind the numbers, as more than half the state's counties are participating in a program, known as the Permanency Practice Initiative. The strategy involves bringing in a wider number of family members and others who care about the child, helping families make decisions as a group and making reviews by judges more frequent, every three months.

The program includes training for judges, lawyers and child welfare workers in trauma, grief and family development.

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