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12/04/2021 12:00 AM
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20210&cosponId=36157
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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: September 7, 2021 12:33 PM
From: Representative Craig T. Staats and Rep. Christopher B. Quinn
To: All House members
Subject: Protecting Children in Foster Care/Adoption - Grace Packer
 
In the near future, we will introduce a legislative package that would help better protect children by updating Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law (CPSL). This legislation, which is anticipated to be a package of three bills, is in memory of Grace Packer, a 14-year old girl brutally murdered in 2016 by her adoptive mother and her boyfriend. As reported by local, statewide and national media, Grace was adopted as a toddler by Sara Packer, a county adoption worker, and her then-husband David.
 
As a result of frequent moves, multiple county child welfare agencies (CCWA) and contractors of those agencies supervised Grace’s placement or had contact with the family. In July 2016, Grace was beaten and raped by Sara’s live-in boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, while Sara watched. Strangled the next day by Sullivan, Grace’s body was dismembered and dumped in Luzerne County where hunters found it months later.
 
It was subsequently discovered the home was filled with relentless emotional, physical and sexual abuse. While a State Inspector General investigation regarding the failures of our child welfare system in this case is ongoing, Grace’s murder highlighted numerous gaps in our CPSL and the systems by which we track reports of child abuse. To better protect children like Grace, our bills will focus on three specific objectives as follows:
 
Statutory Requirement to Implement the Statewide Child Abuse Information System
In 2014, two years before Grace’s murder, the General Assembly enacted legislation mandating the development and implementation of a statewide child abuse database to replace the 67 county-based systems now in use. The Office of Children, Youth and Families in DHS is directing the establishment of this system. During budget hearings, the DHS Secretary indicated implementation of this system is not expected until 2023. Our legislation would require this system be brought online by the end of 2022.
 
Record Retention
Throughout the CPSL record retention is often at the discretion of CCWAs. To better protect children, this discretion must become a requirement. The CPSL is also without explicit language holding contractors of CCWAs and human service agencies to the same record retention requirements as the agencies themselves. Our legislation will address this and also require CCWAs and the PA Department of Human Services to designate an employee as “custodian of records,” with responsibility for record retention and making necessary amendments, expunctions, expungements and notifications as required by the CPSL.
 
“Valid” and “Invalid Reports”
Currently, the CPSL uses but does not define the terms “valid” and “invalid” in relation to a report of suspected abuse, nor does it provide any context where the terms are used that might suggest a meaning. It uses “founded,” “unfounded,” and “indicated.” Our legislation will address this inconsistency. 
 
On August 14th of this year, Grace Packer should be celebrating her 20th birthday. Instead, it will be more than five years after her brutal murder. Not a single regulatory or statutory change has been made since her death.
 
Please join us in co-sponsoring this legislation that would better protect Pennsylvania children and help ensure our child welfare system never again fails a child as it failed Grace Packer.
 
 



Document #1

Introduced as HB1843

Description: Description:  Statutory Requirement to Implement the Statewide Child Abuse Information System
In 2014, two years before Grace’s murder, the General Assembly enacted legislation mandating the development and implementation of a statewide child abuse database to replace the 67 county-based systems now in use. The Office of Children, Youth and Families in DHS is directing the establishment of this system. During budget hearings, the DHS Secretary indicated implementation of this system is not expected until 2023. Our legislation would require this system be brought online by the end of 2022.
 

Document #2

Introduced as HB1844

Description: Description:  Record Retention
Throughout the CPSL record retention is often at the discretion of CCWAs. To better protect children, this discretion must become a requirement. The CPSL is also without explicit language holding contractors of CCWAs and human service agencies to the same record retention requirements as the agencies themselves. Our legislation will address this and also require CCWAs and the PA Department of Human Services to designate an employee as “custodian of records,” with responsibility for record retention and making necessary amendments, expunctions, expungements and notifications as required by the CPSL.
 

Document #3

Introduced as HB1845

Description: Description:  “Valid” and “Invalid Reports”
Currently, the CPSL uses but does not define the terms “valid” and “invalid” in relation to a report of suspected abuse, nor does it provide any context where the terms are used that might suggest a meaning. It uses “founded,” “unfounded,” and “indicated.” Our legislation will address this inconsistency.