Child welfare in Philadelphia needs reform, now - Generocity Philly

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May 27, 2016 8:30 am

Child welfare in Philadelphia needs reform, now

It's been a bad month for the sector. Here's what's been going wrong, and what further-reaching effects that will likely have on our city's recidivism and incarceration rates.

Save the children.

(Photo by Flickr user Tony Fischer, used under a Creative Commons license)

Updated @ 7:30PM 5/27/16: This story has been edited for clarity surrounding the status of DHS' state certification.
Kids who go through foster care are more likely to be homeless, unemployed or incarcerated as adults. If you need an example of why, look at the month that Philadelphia’s child welfare agency has had.

Seven Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) subcontractors were fired after falsely reporting on home visits, the Inquirer reported. Understaffed, they allegedly falsified work on behalf of vulnerable kids.

Two weeks later, DHS had its state certification, which allows the department to deploy services for children, replaced with a provisional license when a January inspection found 70 citations including “inadequate placements” for children. One of those included a Center City office building.

“There’s a room at 1515 Arch Street where kids are sometimes kept overnight when they don’t have placement for them,” Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas told CBS.

And lest you think Harrisburg doesn’t have its own challenges, earlier this week, it was reported that approximately 42,000 calls to the state’s hotline for suspected child abuse and neglect (ChildLine) went unanswered last year. (Childline has added 30 new staffers, according to Dallas, as part of an effort by the Wolf administration to highlight their reform efforts.)

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Frustratingly, strained child welfare services are a national problem and not a particularly new one.

Of all any government’s dysfunctions, a beleaguered support network for its most vulnerable children is among the more concerning for all sorts of reasons. Not the least of which are those correlations between poor child welfare and incarceration — and other struggles in adulthood.

Delays in foster placements can have monumental affects on the behavioral health of youth. A study published in Labour Economics in 2014 revealed higher rates of adult criminality for males placed in foster care after age 13 (though that number can fluctuate from study to study, based on location).

And then there’s the broader question of how effective prison is at rehabilitating inmates: Last year, Pew published a report on how juvenile incarceration fails to prevent recidivism among youth in the criminal justice system.

In 2010, researchers at the University of Chicago found that not only did 24 percent of youth find themselves homeless after aging out of foster care, but nearly half had been incarcerated within two years.

If Philadelphia truly wants to reduce its ugly recidivism and incarceration rates, it will need to start by enforcing high-quality child welfare services.

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