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York CYF downgraded license expires Tuesday; fate uncertain
York County's Office of Children, Youth and Families is awaiting word of its future as its fourth — and supposedly final — downgraded license is set to expire Tuesday.
The office was issued its fourth consecutive provisional license in June, when the state Department of Human Services noted 21 infractions, mostly consisting of clerical errors.
Department spokeswoman Rachel Kostelac wrote in an email that the state completed its latest onsite inspection of the agency Oct. 5-6.
On Nov. 1, York County's office received the results of that inspection, which listed noncompliance areas that need to be corrected, according to county spokesman Mark Walters, who said the agency has "taken the appropriate actions to correct the noncompliance areas."
He said the county is confident it will receive its full license.
Kostelac wrote that a decision on York County's license will be made within the next week, and "the provisional license will technically be extended until the decision is made" to ensure the department has enough time to make its decision.
Four consecutive provisional licenses is the maximum allowed for a specific agency before the agency risks losing its compliance, according to the state Department of Human Services.
The state has never had to take over a county's child-protection office because of licensing issues, a department spokeswoman has said.
Consultant: In an effort to gain compliance, the county brought in former state Rep. Bev Mackereth to work as a consultant to the office.
Mackereth, who now works for D.C.-based Ridge Policy Group, was head of York County's Department of Human Services, which oversees CYF, from 2008 until 2011. She was tapped by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011 to head the state Department of Public Welfare, now known as the state Department of Human Services.
Reached by phone Monday, Mackereth wasn't immediately aware the office's provisional license expired Tuesday, but her belief was that York's CYF would regain a full license.
"They've done so much good work," she said. "They still have a lot to do, but they've come a long way, are recognizing the needs of their community and made significant progress."
Mackereth said she believed her company's consultancy contract, worth $10,000 per month, would be complete at the end of November, but the contract signed with the county states the agreement is in effect through Dec. 31.
Mackereth said her initial impression when she arrived as a consultant was a sense of defeat from the office's employees, but that feeling has changed to excitement.
"This is extraordinarily difficult work," she said. "York County should be proud of its agency."
More employees needed: Mackereth pointed to the large spike in child-abuse calls the office has seen during the past two years as a major reason for the recent struggles.
Child welfare agencies all over the state have seen a dramatic rise in reports since 2015, when rewritten laws expanding the list of mandatory reporters, among other changes, took effect.
The county's number of child-abuse reports rose from 1,486 in 2014 to 1,832, a figure that trailed only Philadelphia, Allegheny and Lancaster counties, according to the state's 2015 child protective services report.
Mackereth said her discussions with York's office and the state have led to a clear sense that the agency needs more employees.
Terry Clark, York's CYF director, requested six more employees, which he was granted, at a county commissioners meeting in July. At that time he noted the agency's caseworkers are dealing with as many as 30 active cases at a time.
Clark told the commissioners that national child-welfare organizations have suggested caseworkers should only deal with 12 to 16 active cases at a time.
The agency also has dealt with high turnover, with the office hiring 64 new caseworkers over a 16-month period, and 21 of those positions having already been vacated, according to the June inspection report.
In August, Clark told commissioners he planned to submit a budget to the state requesting 37 new employees during the next two years, though he has previously noted the office has maxed out its space at 100 W. Market St. in York City.
Clark could not be reached for comment.
Toddler death: One recent incident potentially working against the full re-licensing of the office is the death of 3-year-old Isabel "Bella" Rose Godfrey.
Isabel was killed June 8, allegedly by her mother, Regina Lester, who is in custody facing homicide and other charges, while the family was an active case with York's office.
At the time, the office was under review while operating on its third provisional license, but a spokeswoman with the state Department of Human Services said the death would be considered in the office's next review.
State and county reports of child fatalities, including commentary of a local CYF agency's involvement with the family, are public record, but reports on Isabel are not available because of the ongoing investigation with Lester.