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Pa. Auditor General calls state child-welfare system “broken”

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The State Auditor General said the Pennsylvania child-welfare system is broken.

In his State of the Child report, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said there was an increase in child abuse reports in 13 counties, including Dauphin and York, from 2014 to 2016.

Challenges caseworkers face are low pay, inadequate training and heavy caseloads with burdensome paperwork that they can't up with.

DePasquale said, "Studies have shown that caseworkers spend about 60 percent of their time completing their paperwork, compared with roughly 30-40 percent of their time a decade ago."

Officials with the Department of Human Services said they working on many of those challenges.

Cathy Utz, the deputy secretary for Children, Youth and Families for the Department of Human Services, said, "We recognize that there is additional work to do in streamlining the paperwork process. That is something that we've been working on with counties across the board."

Another concern DePasquale has is increasing turnover rate due to stressed out caseworkers because of legislative changes and families dealing with opioid addiction.

Utz said, "Working with a stakeholder group through the administrative office of the Pennsylvania courts on how we make sure that we're recruiting quality staff and retaining that staff because it's a difficult job."

The auditor general recommends an independent ombudsman to advocate for at-risk children.

DePasquale said, "And the system needs to be reformed comprehensively to give our kids a fighting chance."

Officials with the Department of Human Services said they will keep moving toward improving the system.

Utz said, "We can't ask families and children to change if we're not first willing to change ourselves."