Throughout the 1990s, Pennsylvania's disadvantaged children were well served by a healthy partnership between counties and hundreds of private agencies delivering a wide range of diverse services -- from day treatment and therapeutic family care to residential programs. The system provided a healthy alternative to government-run facilities for children who needed more acute care and guidance in order to become productive members of our communities.
Today, that system is suffering from funding cutbacks and a nightmare of red tape imposed by the Office of Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).
The red tape largely stems from a rate-setting process implemented in 2008 by DPW. The state Commonwealth Court unanimously ruled this process to be illegal, but DPW has appealed. Until these appeals are exhausted or unless DPW finally decides to put neglected and abused children first, counties and providers are left to make difficult decisions.
Each year, it goes like this: Counties and providers wait six months or longer until reimbursement rates are established for the current fiscal year. During this time, counties are unable to pay for services they need to help these troubled children, some of whom are victims of child abuse and neglect. Providers are then left with the following choice: Continue services without funding or borrow money to stay afloat.
Unfortunately, some providers have gone out of business before rates are set, due to the financial burden. Those that are able to continue do so knowing that once the rates are established they will fall well below the actual cost of care -- a pattern that began long before the "great recession" caused tax revenues to suffer.
It should go without saying, but we must say it: Our state government shouldn't stand in the way of children getting the help they so desperately need. But that's exactly what DPW is doing with piles of red tape and a lack of realistic funding.
For example, without a rate increase since 2007, The Bair Foundation, a nonprofit foster-care agency, is struggling to retain good staff and maintain the quality of its programs. Throughout the state, agencies have been forced to accept miniscule or zero-percent increases. Like Bair, most are nonprofits that help tens of thousands of disadvantaged, neglected and abused children every year. Without such programs, many of these children would never receive the chance to reach their full potential.
Norman Hargraves owes his success in life to such a nonprofit youth agency.
As a teenager, Hargraves found himself in front of a judge in Westmoreland County Juvenile Court who sent him to Adelphoi's Evergreen House. Once there, he learned to deal successfully with life's challenges. After leaving Adelphoi, Hargraves earned his MBA and now works as a performance and risk analyst at a bank and teaches business and finance at a college.
Adelphoi, The Bair Foundation and the Youth Services Alliance of Pennsylvania (YSAP) hope the new Corbett administration will compel DPW to become a true partner once again by cutting red tape and allowing counties to make decisions for the local children and families they serve.
It's really quite simple: Offering cost-effective alternatives to government-run facilities will allow counties the flexibility of choosing from a robust continuum of services at a better cost to taxpayers.
By supporting a competitive marketplace of private agencies, the Corbett administration has a tremendous opportunity to restore the healthy partnership that characterized Pennsylvania's children and youth services in the past, and will allow more opportunities for children who one day can become good citizens like Norman Hargraves.
Judy B. Happ is the presi dent of the Youth Services Alliance of Pennsylvania. For more information see: www.ysaponline.org.