EDITORIAL: The state of the child? In need of your help

York Dispatch

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s State of the Child report last year made official what we in York County had already noted:

Child welfare workers are overworked, underpaid and inadequately trained to keep up with caseloads that spiked after lawmakers revamped child-abuse laws in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

As a result, staff turnover was as high as 90 percent in York County during the preceding two-year period, and the local Office of Children, Youth and Families for a time was at risk of a state takeover.

More:Front Porch Program trains concerned participants to identify child abuse

What can we do? For one thing, we can demand our lawmakers significantly boost funding for child-welfare agencies so they can hire more case workers and better train their staffs.

But these people who work to keep our children safe and out of trouble need more than talk — they need action.

York County's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program matches children placed in the legal custody of CYF, often in foster care, with volunteers who act as the eyes and ears of the court.

Linda Yakacki, of Springettsbury Township, has volunteered with York County's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program since 2015. (Photo courtesy of CASA)

The volunteers meet with the child at least once per month and report back to the court on their living conditions.

Unfortunately, there are too few volunteers to match each child with an advocate.

With more than 300 children involved in these cases at any one time and only 44 active volunteers, hundreds of children go through this "tragic" process without an advocate, according to Donna Creager, the program's assistant coordinator.

More:Volunteer advocates offer consistency for York County children in flux

"I have to read these cases, knowing I have no volunteers (available)," she said, pointing to several stacks of manila folders sitting on her desk.

York Dispatch reporter David Weissman spoke with one volunteer, Linda Yakacki, who said she signed up partly because she saw the local child-welfare agency struggling and wanted to be part of the solution.

"It was real, not just a nonmeaningful waste of time like (some other volunteer opportunities) I've seen," she said.

Another meaningful way to volunteer is to serve on one of the York County Juvenile Probation Department’s Youth Aid Panels.

These court-sanctioned panels help juveniles who are first-time, nonviolent offenders avoid entering the formal criminal justice system.

The parents, the juvenile and the panel go through an interview process discussing the child's environment and history, the charges and an appropriate course of corrective action.

More:Volunteers wanted for York County Juvenile Probation Services program

The youth can be assigned community service, might be asked to write letters of apology and can, in some cases, be forced to make restitution to the victims or to the state.

"One of the benefits to the juvenile is that when they complete the program, after a six-month wait, their record is expunged," program coordinator Michelle Breen has said.

There are panels assigned to every school district in York County, and the Juvenile Probation Department needs more adults with no criminal records to staff them.

For more information about volunteering for the Youth Aid Panels, contact Breen at 717-771-9567 ext. 2643., or Lori Petraco at 717-771-9567 at ext. 2679.

For more information about the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, as well as volunteer applications, visit the county's website through the courts and criminal justice tab.

Both of these are worthy programs in need of volunteers.

Can you help?