It was troubling to learn that officials within Northumberland County’s Children & Youth system ignored repeated requests by Pennsylvania State Police for reports regarding a potential child abuse case.
A district judge subsequently granted a search warrant to state troopers who continue to seek information into the possible abuse. According to the search warrant, state police requested “multiple documents” from county officials and those requests were ignored.
Earlier this summer, police requested a forensic interview be conducted but were informed by the county agency that it would not allow the interview because the report was “only dealing with alleged physical abuse which will be unfolding.”
Documentation regarding Children & Youth cases is properly available to limited eyes legally. But when state police come calling for information regarding a case of suspected child abuse, the expectation should have been that law enforcement would be able to access the reports they needed to move forward — or not — with possible charges.
On Friday, C&Y officials said they had provided the information to police they had requested after the warrant was filed. Director Katrina Gownley said they don’t just hand out reports “willy nilly.”
Broadly, that part is understandable. The cases can be highly sensitive.
But law enforcement personnel aren’t just anyone.
While cases of child abuse are complex, there needs to be a level of cooperation between the agency and law enforcement. In the end, they are on the same team, one trying to protect children from the outset and the other finding a legal response when something does happen.
Unfortunately, there are many times when a threat to call C&Y is thrown around as a weapon. It’s used as a tool in custody battles and it can put caseworkers and officials in tough spots. Anyone can call ChildLine and make a report, no matter how true or false. That puts an added burden on already overworked and underpaid caseworkers to review every case and call.
But when law enforcement agencies come calling, answer the phone. Letting police do their job is part of a caseworker’s job. This case should never have gotten this far.
It must be the last time this happens. If that means the county has to bring in more people to work for Children & Youth, so be it. The investment will be worth the cost.
Nothing is more important than protecting our children. Those tasked with manning the front lines know that, which is why this can’t be repeated.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.