Pennsylvania's rate of children in foster care has dropped in the last year, according to a recent report on the state of child welfare in the commonwealth.

It's welcome news, says Joan Benso, head of the nonprofit that conducted the study. She noted, however, that the entire Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children report shows a more complicated picture.

Too many foster care children, she says, are not placed with families.

"It's particularly bad data if you look at the number of teenagers who are living in group homes and institutions," she said.

Benso says the state needs to do a better job of recruiting people to be foster parents to older children.
The study also shows data on reported and investigated child abuse, but Benso says the state's progress on that front is harder to gauge – an increase in child abuse reports doesn't necessarily mean more children are being protected.

Even though the state's foster care population has been declining over the last seven years, the data shows that trend may have slowed.

And Benso says foster care will always be necessary.

"I think the really encouraging signs of our system, though, are that we're working with larger numbers of families by the delivery of in-home services to help deal with the issues of emergent abuse and neglect or issues that aren't quite so serious that require a child be removed from their home because of serious safety concerns," she said.

The first of the annual "State of Child Welfare" reports was in 2009.

The study collects data for a full year on things such as the number of children entering and leaving foster care, how many children return to foster care after leaving, and how closely foster children are monitored by the state.