York County to pay $10K a month for CYF consulting

Greg Gross

York County commissioners have agreed to pay $60,000 through the end of the year for Bev Mackereth, the former head of the state Department of Public Welfare, to help right the county's struggling Children, Youth and Families office.

"I'm really excited to say to the board that we are looking forward to Bev Mackereth's help," Terry Clark, head of the county's CYF, told commissioners during their weekly meeting Wednesday.

The CYF is operating on its fourth downgraded provisional license, a rarity in the state. If it doesn't correct insufficiencies by its next inspection, the state Department of Human Services will take over day-to-day operations.

Clark said the agency is on the right track to get its full license back.

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.

Mackareth was elected to the state House in 2000 and left the position 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 just want to help them to be the best they can be," Mackereth said.

Contract: The contract commissioners approved Wednesday is with the consulting business Mackereth works for, the Ridge Policy Group, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg. It calls for monthly payments of $10,000, retroactive to the start of July.

Mackereth called the price tag the typical going rate for consulting services.

"We've got to take every step possible to get this straightened out," Commissioner Chris Reilly said. "Can you put a price on the safety of children?"

York County's CYF is looking at several options to cover the unanticipated cost, one of which is to ask the state to pick up the tab, Clark said.

If not, the county will have to dip into its contingency fund, said President Commissioner Susan Byrnes, who remained hopeful the state will cover the cost.

The contingency fund has just less than $544,000 in it, said Mark Derr, the county administrator.

Byrnes justified the cost after the meeting, citing Mackereth's résumé. Mackereth has provided consulting to the county agency in the past.

"She's already worked with us, and we haven't paid her," Byrnes said. "She really cares about York County."

Mackereth said she expects to work a full day a week at the agency, will be there most others days before and after she goes to her office and will be available when needed.

License: The county agency has been operating on a provisional license for more than a year and last week was issued its most recent downgraded license, which is in effect through Nov. 15.

The report attached to the license 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 things we're trying to fix in our agency here in this county are things that have been occurring for years. So it does take time to make some of the changes and correct some of the deficiencies that the state has been noting," Clark said. "I think Bev is going to add a layer to that that helps push us to the next level that we're trying to get to, which is getting off that provisional license."

The county agency, as well as others across the state, has witnessed a drastic increase in referrals since the start of 2015, when  the far-reaching rewrite of Pennsylvania's child protection laws took full effect. The changes redefined child abuse, expanded the list of mandatory reporters and streamlined the reporting process, among other changes, which led to the dramatic bump in referrals.

From January through May this year, the county received 2,051 referrals, compared to 1,138 received during the same five months in 2014. In the first five months of 2015, the number of referrals was 1,851.

That's coupled with high employee turnover. The agency 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.

Work ahead: Mackereth will specifically review CYF's procedures and practices and will work with management staff.

"She'll be helping us in some case reviews as well," Clark said. "We're looking forward to Bev's help."

The county also is working to get some additional help.

Casey Family Programs, a nationwide organization that works to improve child welfare systems, is expected to be brought in at no cost the county to find ways to address CYF's issues, Clark said.

Additionally, the agency plans to hire an unspecified number of additional employees to deal with the caseload, he said.

In December, the county hired six additional employees for the agency, and Byrnes said she expects the county will hire six more employees in the near future.

"We will do everything that we can to support you and provide you with what you need to be successful," she told Clark.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.