Philly DHS tries new strategy to keep families together

Pat Loeb
April 01, 2019 - 4:00 am
Family and home.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia's Department of Human Services is trying a new strategy to keep families together, even after a report of abuse or neglect. 

DHS began struggling with excessive caseloads five years ago when it began outsourcing social work, just as Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting laws changed and more cases got reported. 

The department walks a tightrope with being responsible for keeping children safe from abusive or neglectful parents, but criticized for too often separating children from parents who are potentially dangerous to them.

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Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa hopes two Family Empowerment Centers will help reduce the number of children in the city's system by giving their parents the support they need to keep their children safe at home. 

"Housing counseling, behavioral health, workforce development opportunities and access to education supports," Figueroa said. 

The centers will be in Kensington and Southwest Philadelphia at agencies that already do similar work. The target is families where abuse or neglect is reported but where there's no immediate danger to the children.

"Families who might be dealing with poverty-related issues that impact safety. So if somebody's going to lose their housing, or if there's a utility issue and the utilities are shut off in the household, if there's some challenges with food access," she added. 

The centers are set to open in May. Figueroa says the state is splitting the $3 million cost of the pilot with the city. She expects each center will be able to help a thousand families in the next year and the city will then evaluate to see whether it should expand citywide.