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Auditor general: $90M needed to fix broken child welfare system

While all parties agree there is tremendous pressure on the child welfare system and the people working in it, Pennsylvania needs to examine whether it created "unintended consequences" with recent changes in the Child Protective Services Law that flooded the system with reports driven by legal liability concerns rather than a "reasonable" suspicion of child abuse, added Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County.

She also pointed out that the state currently invests in child abuse prevention programs that are effective, but that there is little tracking and monitoring of what is, and isn't, working already.

"Pennsylvania has no statewide plan for preventing child abuse, so much of what is being done, even when valuable, is fragmented with prevention programs being funded by various state offices with little, to no, tracking of overall investment made and outcome achieved," she added.

Jo Ciavaglia | May 16, 2018 | The Intelligencer |  Read More...

The needle in the family tree:
Opioids swamping child welfare system

Nonetheless, parental drug abuse alone isn't justification enough to remove a child from a home under Pennsylvania laws, noted Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, based in Berks County.

State law says courts can rule a child dependent — and remove the child from parents indefinitely — if the child lacks "proper parental care or control," and for related reasons. The court has to find that staying in the home would be "contrary to the welfare, safety or health of the child," and that all reasonable alternatives have been tried. Then the court has to seek circumstances "best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental, and moral welfare of the child."

Addiction is rarely the only problem a troubled family faces, Ms. Palm said, and complex problems require thoughtful solutions.

"There's childhood trauma. There's unstable housing. There's accessing the right kind of treatment," she said. "If we don't understand that, then we may not really have enough put in place to help [a mother] and this family avoid what can be pitfall after pitfall after pitfall."

Rich Lord | Apr 30, 2018 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette |  Read More...

Pennsylvania moves closer to increasing protection for drug-exposed babies

Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director for Children's Justice in Berks County, who sits on the state work group, is among those worried that finalizing the protocols could take up to six months, but lawmakers will feel the pressure to hurry up and pass a bill to meet the June 30 deadline.

"If you can't, on the same day this becomes a law, have a specific set of well-understood protocols and practices then we could be unintentionally creating loopholes where infants fall off the radar," Palm said.

The delay in introducing legislation to bring the state into CAPTA compliance has centered on drafting a law that protects the drug-affected children but does not unintentionally punish the mother with a substance abuse disorder, a move that many child advocates believe discourages pregnant drug users from seeking or continuing drug treatment and prenatal care, Palm said.

Palm applauded the proposed amendment for specifying that referrals should not be deemed as child abuse as "quite significant and extremely instructive."

"The language underscores that we want women to feel at ease honestly discussing their use of drugs so that they can receive treatment they need," Palm added. "They can be prepared, as well as health care staff, for any side effects the baby might develop based on the exposure."

Jo Ciavaglia | Apr 27, 2018 | Doylestown Intelligencer |  Read More...

Despite some progress, counties await child protection answers

"I'll be curious to hear what Eugene's report says," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice.

DePasquale's initial report brought attention to the problems facing the child protection system, but it didn't reveal a lot of new data to quantify how bad things are statewide, Palm said.

Other efforts to help

The auditor general is not the only person who's been working to reform the system, Palm said.

State health officials used Gov. Tom Wolf's opioid emergency declaration to order hospitals to begin quickly notifying the state when they treat babies born with drugs in their system.

That will allow state and county officials to more rapidly discern when there are spikes in drug activity and what drugs are involved, she said.

John Finnerty | Apr 20, 2018 | CNHI Harrisburg Bureau |  Read More...

Local child advocates will be watching Pennsylvania Supreme Court case involving prenatal drug use

Cathleen Palm, the founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County, noted that Congress has consistently reinforced that its 2003 mandate that local child welfare authorities develop a plan of safe care for infants with prenatal drug exposure is not a punitive measure, but a protective one.

Palm was among the advocates who wondered if the high court found prenatal narcotics exposure meets the state's child abuse definition, how it would impact women properly taking prescribed opiate replacement drugs, known as Medication Assisted Treatment. MAT is a commonly prescribed therapy for pregnant heroin abusers as part of drug treatment, but it carries the same risk of developing NAS in newborn as taking illegal opiates.

"That seems to become a pretty slippery slope," Palm added.

Jo Ciavaglia | Apr 10, 2018 | Doylestown Intelligencer |  Read More...

Inside Game: The Key Players Behind Washington's Biggest Foster Care Reform in Decades

Off Capitol Hill, advocates began to drum up public support for Family First before it was even introduced in the House in June 2016. By the time actual text was submitted for markup in the House Ways and Means Committee, First Focus, a D.C.-based advocacy organization, had already organized a sign-on letter campaign, as had the Pennsylvania Center for Children's Justice.

Daniel Heimpel | March 7, 2018 | | 

Early numbers paint picture of opioid crisis' impact on newborns

Palm believes part of the reason for the lack of consensus on data collection is that pregnant substance abusers are an extremely complicated population that fall into multiple categories including medical, behavioral health, child welfare and social services. They are also a population that face the added magnification of stigma, so they are less likely to seek out help, she added.

Jo Ciavaglia | Mar 1, 2018 | | 

Babies addicted to opioids: A crisis crying for a count

Four years ago, Cathleen Palm, a longtime child advocate, was reviewing summaries of fatal child abuse cases across Pennsylvania when she was struck by a recurring theme — a history of newborn drug withdrawal. Her nonprofit group, the Center for Children's Justice, began asking the state Department of Human Services for data on NAS, starting with babies covered by Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor.

Marie McCullough & Dylan Purcell - Staff Writers | February 23, 2018 | |  Read More...

Does Pennsylvania law allow parents to punch their children in the face?

"As a society, we give a lot of latitude to what parents can do to their children," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice in Pennsylvania. All 50 states allow for corporal punishment, with varying degrees of specificity. Pennsylvania's law seems to fall in the middle by forbidding certain outcomes such as "serious injury," but allowing discipline as a defense.

Christine Vendel | Feb. 23, 2018 | | 

Pennsylvania bill would expand child abuse reporting requirements

"If everyone is making calls because we want to avoid legal liability, it may mean we have a bucket of reports that is much bigger than what comes close to constituting child abuse," said Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice, in Berks County. "That has implications in that, what is the magic recipe? Which reports do we respond to? Are we reporting because of liability purpose or because we really believe a child is a victim of abuse?"

Jo Ciavaglia | Feb. 21, 2018 | Bucks County Courier Times |  Read More...

Child welfare loophole remains open

Cathleen Palm is the founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County. She also sits on the state work group on prenatal substance exposure. She confirmed the committee has met monthly for more than a year and recently added health care representatives that work with pregnant drug users. "I think the challenge is we're trying to figure out what is really complicated stuff in both policy and practices with moms and babies and how to balance what both need at a time when there is an ongoing opiate crisis," Palm said.

Jo Ciavaglia | Jan. 12, 2018 | Bucks County Courier Times |  Read More...

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