Pennsylvania’s high court announced this week that it has implemented a new interactive
website feature that gives members of the public, judges and child care professionals a comprehensive look at the demographics of the commonwealth’s abused and neglected children who are under court supervision.
The child dependency data display feature, as it has been dubbed, is believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, the high court stated in a news release issued by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The feature is located on the research and statistics page of the Unified Judicial System’s website at www.pacourts.us.
The information that can now be accessed includes statewide and county-specific data, and includes items such as age, gender, race, length of court supervision and adjudication, current child placement, and permanent child placement plans.
“The data establishes a baseline to measure performance and will help us identify counties and courts which are excelling in certain areas, so those practices can be applied elsewhere to further improve care for abused and neglected children,” Supreme Court Justice Max Baer said in a statement.
Baer, a former family court administrative judge in Allegheny County, and the justice who is guiding the latest efforts on behalf of the high court, went on to state that “the data will also enhance our ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care and to either safely return them to their homes or place them in an alternative permanent, loving family setting.
“Safely keeping these children at home or with relatives or quickly placing them into a permanent alternative family setting not only greatly improves their chances to succeed, it significantly reduces costs, saving an estimated $200 million in federal, state and local tax dollars over the last two years,” Baer stated.
Citing statistics provided by the state’s Department of Public Welfare, the AOPC stated that court-led efforts during the past six years have helped to reduce the number of children in foster care or other temporary living arrangements by 34 percent and reduced by 2.2 million the annual number of days the commonwealth’s dependent children spent out of their homes.
Across the state, the number of abused and neglected children in the state dependency system has dropped from more than 21,000 in 2006 to 14,000 in 2012, the AOPC stated.
The website’s new interactive data displays, often referred to as the “dependency dashboards,” present complex data in easily comprehensible formats that allow users to make quick, visual comparisons of related data, according to the AOPC’s news release. The dashboards don’t include the names or specific information regarding individual children or families due to privacy concerns.
The AOPC stated that there are three separate dependency data dashboards that include statewide data comparisons, county data details and county demographic details.
The information reveals that at the end of 2011, more than 16,000 children remained under the supervision of courts across the state.
That includes kids who are both within their own homes and those placed outside of their homes.
At the end of 2011, data shows, 40 percent of children were in foster care, 20 percent remained in the home, 18 percent were in “kinship care,” 14 percent were in congregate or institutional care and the remaining were either in a detention center, hospital, or had no assigned placement, case records show.
“The ability to cite these numbers from the dependency dashboards highlights its significance,” Justice Baer said in his statement. “An understanding of Pennsylvania’s demographics, statewide and county-by-county, will allow us to sharpen our reform efforts to focus our greatest resources upon our greatest problems.”