Pa. auditor general continues child welfare review with look at obscure agency

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale, speaks after he was sworn in for his second term at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (Chris Knight/AP Photo)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale, speaks after he was sworn in for his second term at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (Chris Knight/AP Photo)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is launching a review of a little-known government agency that hears appeals to cases of child abuse and neglect.

The review is a continuation of DePasquale’s work focusing on the commonwealth’s child welfare system.

A 2016 audit found the state’s hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect was so understaffed, tens of thousands of calls went unanswered.

And in 2017, DePasquale’s “State of the Child” report declared the system broken — finding 46 children died from abuse and neglect before they could be helped by Children and Youth Services in a one-year period.

Now he’s turning his attention to the Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

“If that sounds like something out of bureaucracy purgatory, that’s exactly what this is,” DePasquale said.

Anyone accused of abuse or neglect by a county children and youth agency can take their case to the bureau for an appeal.

DePasquale said it acts “like a shadow justice system.”

“And what’s shocking is that, on average, the bureau backs up caseworkers only about 4 percent of the time,” DePasquale said. “When I say caseworkers, I’m talking about county caseworkers. Four percent of the time or 40 out of every 1,000 cases.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services released the following statement in response:

“DHS is prepared to cooperate with the audit, and looks forward to better understanding the data referenced.

Per the most recent Child Protective Services Report from 2017, 46 percent of cases referred directly to the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) and completed in 2017 resulted in the decision being overturned by BHA.

We are open to working with the Auditor General to address potential opportunities for improvement. We are committed to protecting the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s children, and we will work with the Auditor General to meet this common goal.”

The aforementioned report shows 863 cases were referred to the bureau in 2017. Of those, 174 upheld the county children and youth agency’s decision, 205 were overturned, and 400 were left pending.

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