Changes sought in Pa. foster care of older teens

    A child advocacy group says the recent reduction of children in Pennsylvania’s foster-care program has been accomplished safely.

    But its new report shows more reforms are needed to help older teenagers in foster care.

    The Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Harrisburg, says its State of Child Welfare report shows the number of kids in foster care hasn’t changed much in the past year.

    The recent larger decline of children in foster care has stuck, said president Joan Benso.

    “It’s important when you look at data about children living in foster care that you couple that with careful consideration of whether or not more children are going back into foster care again after they’ve left the system the first time,” Benso said. “And the data do not indicate that.”

    The report also shows the state is gradually moving away from a system that relies on group homes and institutions to take in neglected children.

    Instead, it’s trying to remedy child-welfare problems in the child’s home with services such as family counseling.

    Another objective, Benso said Tuesday, is changing the system so teens can stay in foster care until they’re 21 as opposed to 18.

    Pennsylvania should create incentives for those who adopt older teenagers, she said.

    “There’s now federal law that if we change some additional state policies, we can actually save state and county money, and do better by our older kids in foster care,” Benso said. “Ultimately, we believe more will end up adopted, more will end up in legal guardianship.”

    Benso said advocates hope to see state lawmakers make such changes a priority next year.

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