Wolf Administration Releases New Pennsylvania Statewide Report Reflecting County-Level Needs On Maternal, Child And Community Health Issues

The Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), a joint office between the departments of Education and Human Services, today released a new Family Support Needs Assessment covering needs and challenges experienced by families with young children and opportunities to address these needs and better serve families across Pennsylvania.
The assessment, which was developed in partnership with PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and OCDEL, found that substance use, intimate partner violence and mental health challenges are among the most pronounced issues facing young families across urban and rural communities and shows overall improvement in maternal and child health outcomes across many of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties since the last statewide needs assessment in 2014.
The federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) requires states to complete a needs assessment every four years to document the statewide landscape of maternal, young child and family health, and assess capacity and scope of home visitation services. The target population for the needs assessment included families with expectant parents or families with young children identified as having elevated needs, particularly around poverty or substance use/opioid use. The needs assessment is a tool by which policymakers can compare maternal and child health county-level metrics across the state and prioritize communities for funding of family support services, including home visiting.
Informed by community surveys, interviews, and statewide data sets, the 2018-2020 Family Support Needs Assessment categorizes Pennsylvania’s counties as having “elevated need,” “moderate need,” and “low need,” across six domains: maternal and child health, socioeconomic status, substance use, child safety and maltreatment, community environment and child care.
Overall, the findings show that 44 counties have elevated need in at least one of the domains and 15 counties across the state met elevated need thresholds in three or more domains. There was no defined pattern among counties with elevated need (e.g., geography), underscoring that each county has unique strengths and needs. Importantly, the data collection occurred prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, and the researchers anticipate that the pandemic will exacerbate many areas of community need.
Despite the elevated need recorded in the report, maternal and child health outcomes have dramatically improved across much of the state since the 2014 federally mandated statewide needs assessment. For example, nearly every county (63) saw improved rates of preterm birth and teen birth; 60 percent of counties saw improvements in infant mortality rates; and half of counties saw a reduction in the percentage of children under age 5 living in poverty. Furthermore, more than half of the 2,220 individuals surveyed for the needs assessment have a favorable view of the availability and quality of health and social services in Pennsylvania for families with young children.