Catasauqua Press

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Foster children

Thursday, October 18, 2012 by The Press in News Briefs

Documentary, panel discussion

The public is invited to an 80-minute documentary about foster children and a panel discussion with youths who were in the foster care system at an Oct. 17 event at Cedar Crest College.

The event, from 6 to 9 p.m., is sponsored by the Lehigh County Children's Roundtable and Valley Youth House. The documentary, "From Place to Place," will be shown in Tompkins College Center, Samuels Theater, at the college. Parking is available.

The Lehigh County Children's Roundtable is chaired by the Honorable J. Brian Johnson and was formed in 2006. It is an initiative of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, overseen by the Office of Children and Families in the Court, which required all counties to start roundtables to facilitate timely, safe and permanent living arrangements for children and youth who are in foster care.

The documentary was produced by Matt Anderson, a former caseworker who had worked with at-risk youth. Anderson wanted to tell the stories of foster children who were "aging out" of the system.

"The event focuses on the positive changes that have taken place through the Adoption Act and efforts that have been made to help this vulnerable population of youths," Susan Schellenberg, Lehigh County Court Administrator said.

Some of the changes that have been made include keeping siblings together in foster care, maintaining better connections with family members, having fewer placements from one foster home to another and keeping children in the same school district when placements have to be changed, said Jennifer DeBalko, director of the Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program in Lehigh County. CASA was started in 2003 and is part of the Children's Roundtable.

CASA volunteers help abused or neglected children achieve permanency in their lives and help judges decide what should happen to children who have been declared dependent.

In Lehigh County, the daily average number of children in foster care is 208, said Pamela Buehrle, director of the Office of Children and Youth Services. The average daily number was 410 before the Children's Roundtable and permanency initiatives were started to improve the foster care system.

Before changes, youths had limited services once they turned 18, but that age has been extended to 21, Schellenberg said. Also, once children opted out of the system, they could not return. Now they have the option of returning.

Part of the panel discussion will be devoted to what the community can do to help foster children and those leaving the system, Schellenberg said.