To the Times:
Recently, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued his Action Plan to improve what he has called Pennsylvania’s broken child welfare system. It contains 27 recommendations for immediate action that state agencies and the General Assembly should take to build a better functioning child welfare system.
The action plan follows a report Mr. DePasquale issued in September 2017 titled, “State of the Child: A look at the strengths and challenges of Pennsylvania’s child welfare system and the safety of at risk children.” It concludes that Pennsylvania’s child welfare system is broken and as a result, the safety of children is at risk.
DePasquale deserves much credit for taking a “deep dive” into the challenges that confront child welfare workers everyday – challenges that leave vulnerable children at serious risk. He deserves even more credit for his follow-up Action Plan, encouraging the state government and General Assembly to implement the plan. It doesn’t provide Twitter-ready sound bites; it gets to the nitty-gritty of the child welfare world – caseloads that are too high, paperwork that is too voluminous, turnover rates and low salaries.
Recently, I along with 40 people involved in the child welfare system attended a forum that focused on the report’s findings. But, we are not the people who need to hear about them – we already know.
There must be an upsurge in public awareness. Vulnerable children matter and we all have a stake in keeping them safe.
Most often we hear about the child welfare system when a tragedy occurs. It receives wide media coverage with the accompanying scurry of involved parties. Instead, we need an informed public who make clear that vulnerable children must receive the care they need.
The Action Plan spearheads that effort by recommending the state government add $90 million to the child welfare system to reduce caseloads so that caseworkers can focus on helping one family at a time. But, we need everyone’s help to gather enough public support to make this a reality.
In my lengthy career in child welfare, I have often found myself explaining what I do to friends that don’t know much about child abuse and neglect. We must move from this state of “not knowing” to create the public will to improve how we support families and protect children. This is the challenge we must take on, and the “we” I am referring to is all of us.
Anne Shenberger, CASA Youth Advocates, Media