The Pennsylvania auditor general says the state’s child welfare system is broken.
Eugene DePasquale released a special report Thursday that took aim at the system by the numbers.
“What I found for my ‘State of the Child’ special report is appalling,” DePasquale said. “I’m talking about wholesale system breakdowns that actually prevent (Children and Youth Services) caseworkers from protecting our children from abuse and neglect.”
Centre County was one of 13 counties DePasquale’s office spent time on, talking with caseworkers, supervisors, administrators and families.
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According to the data, the number of child abuse reports made in Centre County has gone up 60 percent over the past two years, from 237 in 2014 to 379 in 2016. Of those, 33 were substantiated in 2016.
“Children are being horribly abused and neglected in Pennsylvania every day,” DePasquale said in a statement. “In recent months, we’ve heard of toddlers being kept in cages, newborns left home alone and starving school-age children locked in filthy rooms. There are heartbreaking stories every week.”
According to the report, more than $1.8 billion was spent on child welfare services in 2016, a year in which 46 kids died and there were another 79 “near-deaths.” In Centre County, the expenses came to $997,392.
The “State of the Child” report follows another audit DePasquale conducted in 2016 on the ChildLine system used to report child abuse. That report showed that thousands of calls made to the system were not acted upon.
The new report claims the people doing the responding are inadequately trained, overworked and underpaid, leading to high turnover.
A Centre County case could be part of some increases. DePasquale noted the change in Child Protective Services Law that took place after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, which included expanding the definition of what child abuse is, as well as broadening who is required to report it.
That, he said, has led to more cases to handle, with some workloads jumping from “generally manageable” numbers of 12 to 20 cases at a time to as many as 50 to 75.
According to the New York senate, a bill was passed by that body in January that would limit the number of cases per worker to no more than 15, after the death of a young boy showed a need to lower the number of kids each caseworker was responsible to oversee. The concern there was that New York caseworkers were supervising over 25 cases.
Centre County’s workload was unavailable.