WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County Children and Youth Services has taken a number of positive steps that have enabled the agency to significantly reduce the number of children in foster care, according to a report issued by a non-profit child welfare agency.
The county saw significant reductions in several key areas, including the number of children entering and remaining in foster care, while also making significant strides in increasing in-home services, according to the State of Child Welfare report released recently by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
The county fared well in virtually every area of the report, which reviewed cases from April 1, 2011 through March 31, 2012.
The only area in which it showed a need for improvement was in foster care placement stability, which measures the number of times a child changes foster care homes.
The report showed the percentage of children in care 12 to 23 months who were placed in three or more different foster care homes increased from 30.5 percent to 35.7 percent, slightly above the state average of 35.2 percent.
Overall, it looks like Luzerne County is doing the right things and moving in the right direction, said Michael Race, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
The report shows the number of children entering foster care in the county decreased from 370 to 307, or 17 percent, compared to the 2011 State of Child Welfare report. That compares to a 9.8 percent reduction statewide.
The number of children remaining in foster care as of March 31, 2012 also declined from 488 to 423, or 13.3 percent. Statewide there was a slight increase in children in foster care, from 13,146 to 13,611, a 3.4 percent increase.
The most dramatic improvement for the county was in the number of children receiving in-home services, which jumped nearly two fold compared to the prior year's report, from 1,552 to 3,095.
Race commended the county for its dedication to providing in-home services, which child welfare officials say is key to preventing child abuse and neglect.
In-home services play a huge role in preventing kids from being victimized in the first place, Race said. You look at family issues that could lead to neglect and abuse, and if you address them early on, you not only prevent larger issues, you allow the child to remain in the home, which is what we want.
When children must be placed, Luzerne County also has done well in placing them with a family member as opposed to a non relative. The report showed 83.8 percent of children were in a family setting, compared to a statewide average of 72.5 percent.
Frank Castano, executive director of Children and Youth Services, could not be reached for comment Friday.
In an interview earlier this year, Castano credited his agency's success in reducing placements to several programs, including Family Group Decision making.
That program brings other family members or friends of a family into the service plan. They meet as a group to discuss issues that led to the child's placement and the steps that need to be taken as a family to address those issues.