Our opinion: Finding permanence

They are among the most vulnerable of our society – children who have been left in the dust of dissolved families or who have endured the hardships that are the result of lives when no family structure ever existed.

Good societies feel an obligation to help these children, but the solutions have never been simple or without stumbling blocks.

In the bad old days were the orphanages, the warehousing institutions that ranged from benign to horrible, providing the fodder for Dicken’s somber novels and the substance of horror stories chronicling even worse abuse than would have occured on the streets.

When compassion overtook the public consciousness, society closed the orphanages and developed a network of committed individuals willing to open their homes for the temporary housing and nurturing of these wards of the state. It was better, but not perfect. There are still occasional reports of abuse and neglect, though the great majority of foster parents are loving, giving and thoughtful people who open their homes and hearts to these children.

Now comes news that a six-year effort by the state court system and child welfare agencies has reduced by a third the number of abused or neglected Pennsylvania children in foster care or similar settings.

The program, called Permanency Practice Initiative, aims at finding a permanent rather than temporary solution through the involvement of other family members who care about the child as well as a support network and more frequent judicial reviews of the cases.

If there has been a flaw in the foster parent system, it has been its temporary nature. Children need to know that they can rely on adults, familiar adults, to be there for them…always and forever.

It’s better for the child, and, as a bonus, it’s better for taxpayers. Court officials estimate the efforts are saving about $117 million a year in state, federal and local costs of foster homes and similar settings.