The York County Office of Children, Youth and Family has asked the state for more money to hire additional employees, but the Auditor General's Office found the agency currently owes the state more than $575,000.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held a news conference Thursday in Harrisburg to discuss the results of his office's audit, which assessed York's child welfare agency during fiscal years 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14.

The audit uncovered that the agency owes the state Department of Human Services $578,400, most of which comes from CYF claiming costs for health benefits paid to retired employees, which is not allowed. Agencies are only permitted to claim costs related to health benefits paid to active employees.

"I don't know what was in their heads at the time," DePasquale said. "Clearly, this is not allowed."

Meredith Schreffler, the agency's fiscal officer, said she wasn't with CYF at the time the errors were made, but those handling the finances must have believed it was allowable.

The agency also claimed costs for health benefits to retired employees during the 2015-16 fiscal year, Schreffler said, and it will be forced to alter its invoice to the state as a result.

Before that issue was found, the county had filed a $540,000 claim for reimbursement from the state for the 2015-16 fiscal year, but Schreffler said she now expects that figure to be significantly reduced.

DePasquale said the agency won't be asked to repay the state, but rather the funds will be returned in the form of reduced future state allocations. He added that DHS might allow those reductions to be spread out over multiple years to reduce impact.

Schreffler said the agency hasn't yet had discussions with DHS regarding the matter.

Hiring request: York CYF has requested a $52.5 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, a 14 percent increase over the estimated $45.3 million the agency operated with for the 2015-16 fiscal year and a 4 percent increase over the $50.3 million it expects to receive for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Those budget requests include hiring 25 additional employees in 2016-17 and 12 more employees in 2017-18.

DePasquale suggested his audit's findings would impact the agency's ability to hire more staff, but Schreffler said her office does not believe the money it owes to the state will impact future hiring.

Hiring more employees is part of the agency's improvement plan, which helped York CYF receive its full license in November. After four consecutive provisional licenses, the agency was one failed inspection away from having its day-to-day operations taken over by DHS.

Schreffler said the agency recently received its tentative allocations based on Gov Tom Wolf's 2017-18 budget proposal — which includes a 4 percent increase in funding to county child-welfare agencies — and the figure is less than its $52.5 million request but more than it received for 2016-17.

York CYF is still awaiting more details regarding how those funds would be allocated to determine how many more employees the agency could hire, Schreffler added.

The agency is seeking more employees because of high staff turnover and a large amount of cases per caseworker, both of which are common among child-welfare offices.

CYF director Terry Clark has said industry standards suggest agencies employ a ratio of 12 active cases per caseworker, but his agency's caseworkers have as many as 30 cases at a time, which is the maximum allowed under state law.

Special report: DePasquale mentioned these struggles in announcing that he has instructed his staff to conduct a special report, titled "State of the Child," examining job stresses for caseworkers and the impact of high turnover and minimal training.

"We are sending kids ... sometimes fresh out of college ... and when they get a job with (a child-welfare agency), sending them into home situations alone that if it was law enforcement, there would be two cops present," he said.

The report will evaluate York CYF along with agencies in Allegheny, Bucks, Cambria, Centre, Crawford, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Fayette, Luzerne, Monroe and Philadelphia counties.

The purpose of the special report will be to offer recommendations to improve child-welfare agencies across the state and the quality of care at-risk children receive, DePasquale said.

"Our goal as a state must be to eliminate child abuse," he said. "We must make sure caseworkers have all the resources they need."

DePasquale noted that his report will likely recommend more state spending, but he said it's a moral and fiscal move to ensure children's safety, because millions are spent on abused children later in life in terms of corrections, counseling and alcohol/drug abuse.

Work on the report will begin immediately and is expected to be complete this fall, he said.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.

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