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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 14, 2019 01:05 PM
From: Senator Thomas H. Killion
To: All Senate members
Subject: Protecting Children in Foster Care/Adoption – Grace Packer
In the near future, I will introduce legislation that would help better protect children in foster care and those adopted through county child welfare agencies (CCWAs).

This legislation is in memory of Grace Packer, a 14-year old girl brutally murdered in 2016 by her adoptive mother and her boyfriend. Covered extensively by Philadelphia-area and statewide 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 CCWAs 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 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.

Following nationwide media coverage of this horrific crime, it was discovered, according to other children fostered by Sara Packer, that the home was filled with relentless emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) finalized the “Report on the Fatality of Grace Packer” on February 8, 2018. That report includes specific recommendations which I will incorporate into this legislation.

Expungement regulations and laws need to be updated to allow for tracking of patterns and review of all history when a new referral is received by county child welfare agencies. This information is critical in developing a family history of care and safety for a child.

CCWAs must have be granted the ability to quickly view case information when a family has moved from one county to another, as in Grace’s case. Currently, CCWAs do not have historical information which is critical to making child-specific safety decisions. In addition, legal barriers preventing data sharing between child and family serving systems and law enforcement agencies must be revised.

Additionally, to allow for through investigations, my legislation would require CCWAs and contractors to retain client records for a period longer than the current five years following termination of services.

The Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General is currently investigating this issue, and I look forward to reviewing and possibly incorporating their recommendations as well.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation that would better protect Pennsylvania children and help ensure no other Pennsylvania child falls through the cracks in our child welfare system.