Angela Liddle Issues Statement On Auditor General Depasquale’s Special Report.
(Harrisburg, PA) – “State of the Child in PA”HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance President and CEO Angela Liddle issued the following statement today regarding PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s Special Report on the State of the Child. That report described a broken child welfare system with overworked, underpaid caseworkers, at-risk children failing to be protected, and an opioid and heroin epidemic that places thousands of Pennsylvania’s children in danger.
“As Auditor General Eugene DePasquale so heartbreakingly details in his new report, Pennsylvania’s child welfare system is broken. Forty-six innocent, vulnerable children died and another 79 nearly died as a result of child abuse according to the state Department of Human Services’ 2016 Annual Child Protective Services Report. Those deaths are the equivalent of two
classrooms of children. And in nearly half of the fatality cases, these children were known to be at-risk by the county agencies charged with safeguarding them.
“Make no mistake: This report is a stinging indictment of our society. We are failing to protect the most vulnerable and precious among us – our children.
“With great fanfare, the Commonwealth recently celebrated important new protections for animals. Would that we all held the same regard and urgency for the protection of our children. Let this report become the clarion call for all of us to demand more accountability, greater effectiveness, and stronger purpose among all of us involved in child abuse prevention. The
protection of children is a shared responsibility. Each of us must become a champion for children.
“Specifically, PFSA strongly endorses the recommendations of the Auditor General around streamlining the volume of paperwork required of caseworkers; decreasing their caseloads; increasing pay for caseworkers; strengthening their training to include real-life family scenarios, personal safety coursework, and a thorough understanding of substance abuse.
“But we urge the Auditor General and the Wolf administration to go further and press for a detailed study of the efficacy of training models used for mandated reporters. Many mandated reporters now receive training online from a variety of entities on how to recognize and report child abuse, among them, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. Are all these entities providing effective training that enables mandated reporters to confidently and correctly determine whether a child is at-risk for abuse? Or is face-to-face training with the opportunity for discussion and responsive examples more effective? What systemic evaluations are being conducted to ensure that the training now required for mandated reporters is supporting timely and accurate reports? Only an impartial, third-party review can answer that question.
“We need to ensure that calls coming into ChildLine rise to the level of suspected child abuse as defined in our law so that the time spent by caseworkers investigating families is focused on those situations that truly present imminent harm to a child.
“Additionally, the opioid and heroin epidemic ravages families across this Commonwealth. For decades, funding to parent education and support programs have been decreased. These are the very services families need more than ever before. And there must be critical consideration given to the effects of substance use disorder on their ability to parent and the health, safety, and welfare of the children in their care. Training offered to caseworkers must be cross systems and cross disciplines to address and better assess the complex needs of families.
“However, rather than create a children’s ombudsman at DHS, we recommend a review of the staffing patterns and job functions in the state Office of Children, Youth and Families and Regional Offices so that children are provided with the level of attention and responsiveness that they deserve and need. Like many government offices and private agencies, these offices have been cut – at the peril of children.
“AG DePasquale has provided a thoughtful overview of issues but without additional resources, few of the recommendations can be implemented. Many significant challenges were identified and a more collaborative, intensive review would add to the list of recommendations and options to address the identified issues. We appreciate his efforts to address these systemic and long-term challenges. The reality is that until child safety and protection really becomes a statewide priority, we will continue to have piecemeal fixes and stretched resources that still allow children to fall through the cracks.
“We respectfully ask our state and local officials to look at strengthening and expanding cross-system services that treat a continuum of needs including parenting, recovery from substance use disorder, and violence prevention. Housing, employment, job training, child care, and transportation are also all related to the safety and well-being of children in communities. None
of these services can be performed in a vacuum that leaves children vulnerable to abuse, and in the worst cases, death.
“We must treat the Auditor General’s report and the most recent DHS Protective Services report as urgent calls to action that cannot be ignored lest we doom more of Pennsylvania’s children to a scarred life or an even more violent end.”