In response to the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, ASFA, Pennsylvania developed a Child Welfare Practice Model and Child Welfare Practice Standards to ensure that quality services are provided to children and families with a focus on safety, permanency, and well being. Since this time, there have been a multitude of federal and state laws that have been created to further promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children who enter the child welfare system.
Some of the values and principles outlined in the Child Welfare Practice Model include:
- Children and youth have the right to live in a safe, nurturing, and stable family.
- Families are the best place for children and youth to grow up.
- Family connections are maintained whenever possible.
- All families have strengths.
- Families come in all shapes and sizes and family defines family.
- Families are experts on themselves, are involved in decision making and are willing to drive change.
- Children, youth and families are best served through a team approach with shared responsibilities. All team members have a role and voice. Involving the child, youth, family, and extended support networks as active members of the team empowers the family.
The Pennsylvania child welfare system operates from the belief that children belong with their birth families, and out of home placement should be a last resort when necessary for the child’s welfare, health or safety. If removal from the home is necessary, using relatives and kin as a placement option, keeping siblings together and maintaining the child’s connection with their community and school become priorities for children’s well-being.
Guiding Principles to Promote Child Well-being (PA Dependency Benchbook):
- Recognize and promote the physical, emotional, social and educational well-being of each child.
- Inspire hope, growth and change in each child by identifying his or her strengths.
- Recognize that each child is unique and provide services tailored to his or her unique strengths and needs.
- Provide opportunities for each child to develop individual talents and skills.
- Provide opportunities for each child to build self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Empower every child to develop a sense of individual responsibility and accountability for their actions.
- Identify and engage an adult with whom a child can develop a reliable, sustaining and meaningful life connection.
- Ensure that siblings are placed together unless there is a compelling reason not to provide such a placement.
- Implement a visitation schedule including siblings, parents and kin that meets the developmental needs of each child, understanding frequent and quality visitation as being key to successful family reunification.
- Seek and strengthen informal and formal community resources for children and families.
- Ensure that early assessment is made of each child’s cognitive development and, where possible, include family members in any recommended treatment.
- Encourage a child’s interaction with peers to foster healthy social development.
- Strengthen an older child’s ability to live independently as he or she transitions into adulthood by providing supportive services such as education, life skills training, prevention services and employment and housing education.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that children who are raised in stable, loving, permanent family environments do much better in all areas of functioning once they reach adulthood. Concurrent planning is a key method of achieving timely permanency by simultaneously working toward reunifying the child with birth family as soon as safely possible, or by securing another safe, permanent family through options such as adoption or legal guardianship.
Guiding Principles to Provide Timely Permanency (PA Dependency Benchbook):
- Identify all possible practices and strategies that address the needs of a child and family, and encourage solutions that do not require court intervention.
- Recognize that a child should be reunified with his or her parents whenever possible and, if not, then with other family members.
- Understand the need for urgency in delivering services and decision making for those children who do require court intervention.
- Whenever possible, employ non-adversarial court processes including facilitation and mediation as a means for resolving concerns.
- Employ family finding strategies, recognizing the potential trauma caused by family separation.
- Employ decision making and planning strategies that are family driven.
- Employ family engagement strategies to ensure strengths based family centered skills for professionals who serve children and families.
- Employ non-adversarial, family driven planning strategies at the initial stages of the dependency process and at any other stage at which a plan is being developed or updated.
- Ensure timely and thorough court hearings and speedy decisions for each child.
- Ensure competent legal representation for children and parents before a shelter care hearing and throughout the legal process.
- Ensure that the voices of parents or other caregivers are heard at each stage of the process.
- Employ concurrent planning for permanency as each case begins and at every stage of the proceedings.
- Minimize the length of time children must spend in foster care and other temporary living situations.
- Accomplish timely permanency for every dependent child according to the law.
- Terminate court intervention when a child is no longer dependent.
- Identify, create and implement additional systemic improvement practices.
- Ensure that recruitment activities are fully pursued to identify the best adoptive family for children who cannot return to their families.
- Ensure close coordination with orphans’ courts aimed at finalizing adoptions promptly.
- Recognize that permanent legal custodianship is a viable option when reunification or adoption is not possible.
Ultimately, the mission of Pennsylvania’s child welfare system is to ensure that all children grow up in a safe, nurturing and permanent family. This mission has guided the enactment of legislation and practices that increase child safety and well-being while also reducing the number of dependent children and reducing the length of time each child remains dependent.