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York CYF fully licensed, but 'long road ahead'
Terry Clark said Thursday afternoon's phone call from the state was met with elation and relief from the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families.
The local child welfare agency was on its fourth consecutive provisional license, which expired Tuesday, and one more failed inspection would have meant the state's Department of Human Services would take over control of day-to-day operations.
The department had conducted its latest review Oct. 5-6 and still noted four infractions, but the office's corrective-action plan was approved, and the agency received its first full license since November 2014. The license is now active until Nov. 15, 2017.
The state had noted 21 infractions during the agency's previous inspection.
Clark, the agency's director, spoke Friday morning about the progress at a news conference joined by county commissioners, state representatives and many of the office's 167 employees.
"We've made some huge strides within our agency to improve how we do business," he said.
Clark said the agency focused on three key areas in its improvement plan: ensuring children's safety, empowering families to make better decisions and enhancing partnerships with other groups in the community.
The office has worked to strengthen partnerships with local groups that focus on drug-and-alcohol addiction, mental health issues and truancy, among other topics.
"Child abuse is a community issue, not a government issue just for children-and-youth agencies to deal with," Clark said.
Despite the relief of receiving the full license, Clark said, the agency knows it still has a "long road ahead."
The state's report noted that the office is still dealing with the high staff turnover and large caseload figures that were a major factor in the agency's previous failed inspections.
The office hired 25 new employees during its most recent licensing period, between June 22 and Nov. 15, according to the report.
"The leading cause, as noted by the agency, for staff resignations is reported to be the volume of work," the report states.
Clark said the agency's caseworkers are dealing with as many as 30 active cases at a time, while a national child-welfare organization has suggested the ratio should be closer to 10-15 active cases per caseworker.
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.
Former state Rep. Bev Mackereth, who was brought in by the county to be a consultant in light of the agency's struggles, said she had expected those numbers to level off in 2016, but they've only gotten higher.
Mackereth, who now works for Washington, 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.
During September and October, the agency accepted 1,081 cases, which Clark said is the office's highest two-month period in its history. During those same two months in 2015, the agency accepted 909 cases.
In 2014, before the updated law took effect, the agency accepted 554 cases during those months.
The county has approved 12 additional staff positions during the past two years, and Clark said he's submitted a budget to the state that includes adding 37 positions during the next two years.
Clark said Mackereth was able to sit down with the agency's caseworkers to help them look at creative ways to help families and learn to use those families' strengths to help solve issues.
Mackereth's $10,000-per-month contract with the county is up at the end of the year, but Clark said he believes the agency will be able to continue improvements without her.