Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer has announced the selection of seven counties to participate in a program designed to support abused and neglected children.

The Family Engagement Initiative was created by a collaborative effort between Pennsylvania State Roundtable—a court organizational program implemented in 2007 meant to help children in family matters—along with state and national court and child welfare leaders.

Adams, Blair, Clinton, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Northampton and Union counties were chosen for the initiative out of a statewide selection process. The counties were selected by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

“The selected counties will get training from international experts to teach them cutting-edge practices rooted in research and science to enhance the way they help children and families,” Baer said in a statement released Sept. 6. “The counties will receive resources developed specifically for them. It’s exciting to be working with such a dedicated and motivated group of court and county leaders to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.”

According to a press release, counties interested in participating in the program were required to submit a letter of interest with signatures from their lead dependency judge, president judge, county commissioners and child welfare director. The seven counties selected were narrowed down from a “larger than expected” list of applicants by Baer, the state court system’s Office of Children and Families in the Courts (OCFC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Baer, the former head of the Allegheny County Family Court division of the Court of Common Pleas, has long been an advocate for child welfare issues.

The program is supported by the OCFC and the Federal Court Improvement Program, in partnership with the state Supreme Court and the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

“The initiative uses evidence-based practices that identify and meaningfully involve healthy family members and close friends in the lives of child welfare families,” Sandra Moore, the OCFC’s director, said in a statement. “This requires the support of all local leaders within the selected counties.

“Some of the many outcomes we hope to see from this collaboration include increased family involvement, reduced trauma to children and a reduction in the time children are separated from those who love and care about them,” she continued.

In April, according to the OCFC, 400 judicial officers, legal professionals and child welfare agency leaders met at the biannual roundtable to discuss issues ranging from issues facing LGBTQ youth, to children of incarcerated parents, to responses to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in Pennsylvania.

P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 
215-557-2315 or pdannunzio@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI. •