Agency strives to improve service for abused and neglected children
By Cliff Lewis
At today’s public County Commissioners’ Meeting, Crystal Gingrich, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency (CYA), presented an overview of the current challenges facing the organization, as well as the steps that are being taken to improve services.
The CYA serves children and families threatened by abuse or neglect, with a stated mission to “protect the health, permanency, safety, and emotional well-being of children at risk….” Some of the key services provided are abuse and neglect investigations, in-home protective services, out-of-home placement services (foster care), adoption, and parent eduction support.
According to Gingrich, CYA case workers screen over 5,700 call-ins each year, and engage in over 1,100 child safety investigations. During the current fiscal year, 473 children have been placed in protective out-of-home placement, and last year, 92 children were adopted in Lancaster County.
The number of children in out-of-home placement is one that the CYA seeks to minimize, where possible. In this regard, the numbers for this year are positive, compared to the 568-child peak during ‘04-’05: “I think that shows a definite improvement in our area of providing supportive services to children in their home, with children returning sooner, and I think we are making safer decision for children and empowering families,” Gingrich said.
The child reunification rate has historically been low in Lancaster County; this means that the process of reuniting children with parents has taken longer than in other counties. However, in the last year, the CYA has increased the reunification rate by 10%, largely due to changes in policy that allow for more in-home supportive care. One drawback that must be noted is that this reunification rate increase has resulted in a slight increase in the number of children re-entered in foster care.
Currently the CYA is participating in the National Governor’s Academy, in which 16 counties have been selected to develop policy changes with the purpose of bringing a 20% reduction in Pennsylvania’s out-of-home placement rate by 2010. The CYA is also engaging in “local children’s roundtable” discussions, where agency representatives meet with local courts to talk about ways to make the system more effective
One area of recent CYA policy reform has been a new emphasis on family involvement in the out-of-home placement process: “We have made a tremendous change in our philosophy of using relatives and finding relatives that will be good options for our children to live with, if they cannot live with their parents.” Also, the agency has begun implementing new systems to contact estranged parents (typically fathers), in the event that a child can no longer live with the other parent.