Data-Driven Public Policy Reforms

Every day in Pennsylvania, child welfare professionals gather and assess information to make critical decisions about the commonwealth’s youngest citizens. Shouldn’t we similarly expect policymakers, who establish the guidelines for child welfare professionals, to base their own legislative proposals on data and experience instead of emotion and conjecture?

I applied to the Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellowship to promote data-driven public policy reforms that improve outcomes for Pennsylvania’s children and families.  As a graduating Master of Social Work student interested in systems change, I was particularly drawn to a proposal submitted by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) because of its emphasis on research, communications and data analysis in addition to government relations.  Working at PPC seemed like the ideal opportunity to use the skills behind my journalism and social work degrees while maintaining my professional commitment to helping vulnerable children. 

In July 2011, I joined PPC on the brink of a legislative opportunity that helps Pennsylvania youth in foster care while saving money and providing a new source of federal revenue.  Many child welfare professionals are familiar with the federal Fostering Connections to Success & Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections) due to its comprehensive approach to reform. It is less commonly known, however, that Fostering Connections pledges federal financial support to states that implement a handful of key strategies geared toward teens and young adults in foster care.

I started working at PPC just as the organization—along with Juvenile Law Center, our Fostering Connections partner—received the results of a state fiscal impact analysis of full Fostering Connections implementation. Part of my work has involved translating these findings into easy-to-understand communications pieces sent to state legislators and other child welfare constituents. These deliverables include a report on Maximizing “Fostering Connections” to Benefit Pennsylvania Youth, which wasreleased days after Governor Corbett expressed his support of Fostering Connections in his proposed state budget.  I have also prepared numerous articles, PowerPoint presentations and social media releases to inform the conversation.

It is a good feeling knowing that the Governor supports an initiative that will help teens in foster care. But if this year has taught me anything, it is never to stop educating stakeholders and amassing support—particularly during the budget cycle when many are fighting proposed cuts to social services. As I write this blog, PPC continues to mobilize child advocates through its Fostering Connections campaign to inform legislators about the importance of full implementation.

I hope to end my fellowship knowing that PPC’s work and Stoneleigh’s support will lead to more Pennsylvania youth joining permanent families through adoption and guardianship. For those youth who will not find a permanent family, I hope that this work leads to increased access to foster care resources and a better chance for people to overcome the challenges of adulthood with a limited support network.

Whatever the outcome, I will complete my fellowship knowing that I spent a year supporting a policy solution geared toward children’s best interests and supported by empirical evidence.  I hope that this work reminds others in Harrisburg and elsewhere to demand proposals based on numbers and facts rather than conjecture and rhetoric. Serving vulnerable children is not an easy task, and the policies enacted to guide the child welfare system should reflect its complexities and importance.

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