In May, a group of teens who'd spent time in institutional placements scattered around the state sat in front of Philadelphia City Council members and described physical and emotional abuse, illegal solitary confinement, schools without teachers or books, and continuing trauma from the experience.
"We should have done more to protect you," Councilwoman Helen Gym told them at the hearing.
On Thursday, she introduced a resolution to launch a task force that would investigate what programs are available and what investments are required to ensure the city can begin moving young people out of faraway placements and back into the community.
"This is not going to be an easy process to bring our kids home, to significantly reduce the number of young people in out-of-county placements," Gym said. "But it's an enormous step forward."
Gym hopes the group, with collaborators from the Department of Human Services, the District Attorney's Office, the Defender Association, the School District and others, will be positioned to directly affect the situation for 900 young people currently in institutional settings. About 45 percent come through the juvenile justice system; the rest are placed through the child welfare system.
DHS has been working to reduce the number of young people in institutional placements, but it has struggled, in part because requests for proposals to create more programs in Philadelphia have failed to draw applicants. Gym thinks collaboration across agencies, and with advocates, could be the key.
"We want better settings for young people, especially when they're in our child welfare system," she said. "But we also want to think about really healthy places for our youth in the juvenile justice system, to feel they can have a sense of opportunity. We know that when kids are far away from home in institutional facilities, that their education is not up to par, and that's a significant issue for us. They need better."