A random review of Dauphin County Children & Youth agency cases resulted in 84 citations for offenses ranging from misfiled paperwork to caseworkers working without required child abuse clearances.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services reviewed the agency on several different occasions for its yearly inspection, as well as "for the purpose of investigating complaints" and ultimately placed the agency on a six-month provisional license. Its report on the ruling was released to the public Thursday.
"In the past year, the overall level of services with the children, families and service providers has declined," the state wrote in its review, commenting on the quality of services being provided to area children and families.
The state highlighted a number of problem areas, including issues with screen-out and referral paperwork, missteps in the process of assuring the safety of all children and a lack of family engagement.
Quality of care diminished as a result of an increased staff turnover rate, a restructuring of the agency that did away with specialty units and an increase in cases referred to the agency, according to the state's report.
Several issues were found with mandated Safety Assessments including, missing entirely or conducting late assessments, not listing all children, children not seen within required timeframes, missing or late supervisor reviews and signatures and children listed as "safe" when their realities should have been deemed and listed as "unsafe."
Children at risk
Some violations put children's immediate safety at risk.
In some cases, "there was no indication that the safety of the victim child and other children in the home was ensured immediately," according to the report.
Caseworkers should also assess the risk under which all children within a targeted home live, but this didn't happen in all cases.
The findings outline issues that some may find trivial — a forgotten photograph, putting down the wrong race for a child on paper work, not collecting the correct records or signatures and missing case review deadlines by a day.
Others, a bit more troubling — examples of caseworkers finding clear safety threats, but not documenting any protective steps; No proof that families were ever visited and cases where a child was placed in out-of-home care and not put through the "child grievance procedure" to explain what was happening.
Caseworkers closed out cases without seeing and re-evaluating children within the mandatory 30 days of the caseworker ending the case. A number of cases showed a child was classified as "unsafe" and in placement but was listed as safe on assessment sheets.
Some cases were closed out without a safety assessment or visiting the child's home at all.
Conversely, in one case, a child was found to be "safe" but a safety plan — which is not necessary for the determination — was still found in the file.
The county submitted a corrective plan to address some of the issues in last year's licensing rotation, but the violations remained, only to once again be spotted as a problem area during the annual-April inspection.
Dauphin County will undergo additional reviews as the state provides greater oversight until the agency is granted a full license. A county can receive three provisional licenses before its license would be revoked by the state, but the state also can revoke a license if it finds the agency is negatively impacting the safety of the children it serves.
The county provided the state with a list of cases, to which the department selected a random sample. The findings were enough to downgrade the agency's standing.
The state considered "the number of violations, the nature and severity of those violations, whether the violations are systemic and cross numerous cases and repeated from one year to another," according to an email from Kait Gillis, press secretary for the Department of Human Services.
"Violations that impact the safety and well-being of children are given greater weight," Gillis added.
A grand jury probe into the agency — which was independent of the DHS review — revealed similar issues and children's safety impacted to the point of death.
On the state's part, all fatality and near fatality cases are examined for regulatory violations as part of the department's fatality and near fatality review process.
A number of the violations were repeat offenses that had been previously identified in the agency during other licensing cycles, but the citations did not stop at the case level.
Staff members were hired without proper criminal, child abuse and FBI clearances. An unnamed caseworker was employed with the agency for nearly a year before termination and the proper clearances had never been supplied. Others waited more than a month to supply the proper clearances to be working with children.
While Dauphin County officials could fight the downgrade, they don't intend to pushback against the state's determination.
"The department has acknowledged that serious mistakes were made in the past and will not be appealing today's issuance of a provisional license," said Amy Richards Harinath, county spokeswoman, in a statement released in response to PennLive's request for an interview with Children & Youth interim administrator Joseph Dougher and oversight Commissioner George Hartwick.
The agency, Richards Harinath said, is confident that it's corrective decisions already implemented address all of the violations and, "most importantly, will serve to better protect the children and families of Dauphin County."
In fact, a majority of the issues identified by the state had "already been addressed" by the April inspection, according to the statement. Richards Harinath acknowledged that several of the violations came down to compliance issues and not quality of care.
"Many [violations] had to do with a failure to properly document how cases were handled and not submitting reports to the state on time," she said.
By Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico's standards, the county is "heading in the right direction," and he called for state officials to address issues that can't "easily be fixed at the local level."
"Not all the issues uncovered during the grand jury investigation can easily be fixed at the local level," Marsico said in a released statement. "Some issues, such as a review of caseworker training and high caseloads need to be addressed at the statewide level."
DHS will rule again on the status of Dauphin County's license when the provisional license expires on Jan. 24, 2016.
By the numbers
Dauphin County Children & Youth saw a "significant increase" in staff turnover rate with 28 members of the staff leaving the agency:
- 1 Administrative Staff;
- 3 Clerical support;
- 2 Fiscal staff;
- 1 Case aide;
- 1 Legal staff;
- 20 caseworkers.
The state reviewed the following Dauphin County Children & Youth records:
- 20 of 988 Child Protective Service records;
- 30 of 1,961 General Protective Services intake records, including 10 "Once & Done" records;
- 20 of 296 Ongoing/In-home Services records;
- 10 of 319 Placement records;
- 43 agency Resource family home records, including 37 new resource homes
- 4 of 32 Adoption records; and
- 169 personnel records, including 24 new employees.
Dauphin County has participated in the Quality Service Review process:
- First review in 2012;
- Second review in 2014;
- Third review scheduled for 2016.
The public welfare agency serves "a diverse population":
- About 271,000 residents make up the population.
Editor's note: To report suspected child abuse, call ChildLine at(TDD 866-872-1677)