The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 5, 2013

Failures cry out for accountability


Daily Item

---- — An astonishing fact from efforts to reform child protection in Pennsylvania is the discovery that 49 percent of children who died from abuse in the past three years had been involved in some state intervention that failed.

That sounds as if surviving child abuse, even when the state is trying to save you, is a 50-50 probability -- basically the flip of a coin.

When asked how that could be possible, reform advocates say the system operates basically with inexperienced, untrained caseworkers who were described by one informed district attorney involved in the research as former college art history majors who are now trying to apply inadequate law.

Well, which is it? Bad law or inadequate caseworkers? Probably both, operating in an environment with few alternatives and, frankly, not a lot of accountability.

In our region of Central Pennsylvania, we have witnessed a series of child protection failures, mainly as court cases after someone has been charged in the untimely or violent death of a helpless infant.

In instance after instance, these deaths occur within dysfunctional, poorly assembled, ill-equipped family settings that seem virtually designed to fail, in the absence of true kinship or the prevalence of chemical dependency.

It is heartbreaking. It is too common. Why this pattern persists is neither understandable nor acceptable. The workings of Children and Youth rescue efforts are generally described as heroic attempts to achieve family reunification, not the fumbling and apparently lethal inadequacies of former art history majors.

Why family reunification is such an overarching goal, what standards are used to trigger alternative solutions and whether society provides or would be better off providing state-operated alternatives seem to be subjects beyond public consideration.

Even the weakest of minds can grasp that life in a regularly inspected, fully compliant state-run orphanage may be more survivable than parents who smother, freeze, cook or beat their babies to death despite social service counseling.

In all, 54 children have died in Pennsylvania in the past three years after someone had warned child protective services that the children were in danger.

This 50-50 level of failure cries out for accountability and reform. This record is more than shameful. It borders on complicity. We cannot allow these statistics to develop behind a curtain of confidentiality and, then, simply shrug as if there is nothing to be done.

Fellow Pennsylvanians, we must be better than that.