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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: August 19, 2021 09:51 AM
From: Senator Lisa Baker and Sen. Judith L. Schwank
To: All Senate members
Subject: Interbranch Commission on the Child-Welfare System
In 2017, the auditor general issued a “State of the Child” special report detailing alarming deficiencies in Pennsylvania’s child welfare system. He later developed an action plan consisting of 28 recommendations designed to provide child welfare professionals with the time they need to perform their critical work.  In 2019, the inspector general announced plans to examine the Department of Human Services’ role in ensuring the safety of children who are suspected of being abused, following the torture and brutal murder of Grace Packer.  Most recently, the Department of Human Services announced an investigation into Luzerne County Children and Youth Services after criminal charges were filed against its former director.   
While we all have read about several horrific cases of child abuse, the truth is too many children in supervised situations suffer death, serious injuries, or endure abysmal living conditions. Several community discussions have spotlighted the depth and extent of the shortcomings, but the problems have been evident for some time, reaching back across administrations.
Although the problems are documented, meaningful accountability and reform are yet to be provided.  It is going to take a serious additional effort to push through further remedies that will include increased funding, added personnel, more consistent oversight, and important changes in law and regulation.

To that end, we are introducing a modified version of legislation from last session, SB 297, which sought to create the Interbranch Commission on the Child Welfare System. The legislation has been changed to increase the number of Commission members and to enhance representation.  The Commission will consist of eight members appointed by the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, eight members appointed by the General Assembly, seven members appointed by the Governor, as well as the auditor general and a deputy secretary from the Department of Human Services.

This body is patterned after the Interbranch Commission for Juvenile Justice, which did an outstanding job of investigating the horrific circumstances of the Kids-for-Cash scandal in Luzerne County. That commission developed an extensive series of reform recommendations, the majority of which were implemented through legislation or by rule.

Last session, SB 297 was co-sponsored by Senators Santarsiero, Fontana, Argall, Costa, Vogel, K. Ward, Regan, Browne, Yudichak, Tartaglione, Leach and Haywood.  

Introduced as SB997