CYF issued 4th downgraded license; Mackereth tapped to help
A former York County lawmaker and head of the state Department of Public Welfare has been tapped to help fix the county's struggling child-protection office, which was issued its fourth consecutive downgraded license last week.
If it fails the next inspection, the state will step in and take over operations at the agency.
Former Rep. Bev Mackereth, who started as a caseworker in the same agency in the 1980s, will work as a consultant to improve operations in the county's Children, Youth and Families office, according to county spokesman Carl Lindquist, who added that details are still being worked out.
First elected in 2000, Mackereth left the state House in 2008 to become director of York County's Department of Human Services, which oversees CYF. She was selected by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011 to head the state Department of Public Welfare, now known as the state Department of Human Services.
"I care very deeply for that (county) agency and the people that it serves," Mackereth said. "They're taking amazing (corrective) steps, but they just aren't there yet. It takes time. It doesn't happen overnight."
The report by the state Department of Human Services, dated June 22, outlines 21 infractions found at CYF. Most are clerical and include paperwork not being signed by a supervisor in a timely manner and proper procedures not being followed.
The five-month provisional license is in effect through Nov. 15. If the county doesn't receive its full license after an upcoming inspection, it will lose its certification of compliance, and state officials will take over the day-to-day operations.
The state has never had to take over a county's child-protection office because of licensing issues, according to the state Department of Human Services.
Calls to Michelle Hovis, the executive director of the county's human services, and Terry Clark, head of CYF, weren't immediately returned.
Response: Lindquist, the county spokesman, said the office continues to work through an extremely high number of referrals while also dealing with high employee turnover.
The office hired 64 new caseworkers over the past 16 months, but 21 of the positions have already been vacated, the county wrote in the comment portion of the state report.
"Being a caseworker is the hardest job anyone can do," Mackereth said, adding most caseworkers are just out of college and have little life experience but see the horrors of child abuse almost daily.
The county saw an 80 percent increase in referrals during the first five months of this year, compared to the same time period in 2014, prior to the far-reaching rewrite of Pennsylvania's child protection laws, which took full effect in 2015.
The changes redefined child abuse, expanded the list of mandatory reporters and streamlined the reporting process, among other changes, but led to a dramatic increase in referrals.
From January through May, the county received 2,051 referrals, compared to 1,138 it received during the same five months in 2014. In the first five months of 2015, the number of referrals was 1,851, Lindquist said.
"Children, Youth and Families is facing a historic challenge in that it's facing an unprecedented increase in case referrals," he said.
The office saw a nearly 86 percent increase in referrals, or 2,237 new cases, last year compared to 2014. That outpaced the statewide increase of about 42 percent, Lindquist pointed out.
"This is not just a York County issue; this is a commonwealth of Pennsylvania issue," Mackereth said.
County officials have not decided whether they will appeal the most recent provisional license.
The state issued the Office of Children, Youth and Families its first provisional license about a year ago, and it received a second in November. It was issued its third downgraded license in April.
The county notes in the recent report it was issued the third provisional license on April 5 and state inspectors were at the office about two weeks later, on April 19 and 20.
Mackereth said that wasn't enough time for the county to implement measures to correct deficiencies previously found.
Infractions: Of the 21 infractions recently cited by the state, many are clerical.
In one instance, which was a repeat offense, a risk assessment record was dated Nov. 24, 2015, but was not signed by a supervisor until April 18. Another citation was issued because two 10-day supervisory reviews of a caseworker were not completed.
A supervisor is to do such reviews every 10 days, but in two instances there was a roughly monthlong gap between reviews.
Six, or 29 percent, of the 21 citations stem from a single, unnamed caseworker and are the result of the worker not following a checklist to ensure required items are done on time, the county notes in the report.
The caseworker is still with the agency, which is working with the caseworker and his or her supervisors to make sure procedures are followed, Lindquist said.
The recent homicide of 3-year-old Isabel Rose Godfrey, whose family was receiving assistance from CYF, didn't play a factor in the downgraded license because the inspection happened after she was killed June 8, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services has said.
Corrective measures: As part of the report attached to the provisional license, county officials outlined how they intend to fix problems, such as ensuring supervisors follow a checklist to make sure documents are signed on time.
The county also put into place a corrective action plan within the past year. One action was to create six new positions in the office in December, President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said.
"We're moving in the right direction, but ultimately what it comes down to is change takes time," Lindquist said.
The addition of Mackereth to the office will help, officials said. She got her start with the county's CYF as a caseworker in 1980 before working her way up to supervisory roles, giving her insight in how the office operates at all levels.
Mackereth plans to meet with Casey Family Programs, a nationwide organization that works to improve child welfare systems, to find ways to address CYF's issues.
Mackereth, who works for the lobbying firm Ridge Policy Group, headed by former Gov. Tom Ridge, isn't currently being paid by the county for her work, but the two sides are in negotiations to hire her for an unspecified amount of time at a yet-to-be-determined cost to the county, Byrnes said.
There are no plans to replace Hovis or Clark as respective heads of the county's Human Services or CYF, she said.
"The commissioners are 100 percent supportive of Michelle Hovis and Terry Clark," Byrnes said. "This is meant to assist them. To have an extra set of eyes in the office."
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.