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Lawmakers Start Weighing Child Welfare Reforms

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

In September, a report from the state auditor general’s office declared Pennsylvania’s child welfare system “broken.”

Now, lawmakers have begun considering how to improve it. 

The first committee hearing on the report focused largely on how to keep qualified case workers on the job.

On average, those employees don’t make a huge salary. The audit showed the average entry level pay is just over $30,000 per year.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said that might be why some counties see up to half of their case workers quit within in a year.

However, he thinks there’s also a tougher issue at play.

“Some of these jobs are so bad that even if you paid them $200,000 a year, you would still get high turnover” he said.

Caseworkers have to deal with emotionally fraught, occasionally violent custody situations. Sometimes children die.

But even though it’ll never be an easy job, DePasquale said turnover might decline if caseworkers feel they’re actually making a difference.

He said the system would be more effective if caseworkers had better training, offices coordinated with schools and law enforcement more effectively, and there was more attention paid to addressing the root causes of child abuse and neglect.

The existing funds may be enough on their own, he said. But they’re not being used effectively right now.

“Pennsylvania spent nearly $2 billion in 2016 to protect children, yet 46 children died and 79 nearly died from abuse and neglect, in just 2016 alone,” DePasquale said.

Lawmakers say they’ll continue to consider solutions, though there are no concrete plans yet.