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At County Admins' Meeting, Child Protection Bills Loom Large

As measures to strengthen child protection efforts gather steam in the state House and Senate, the head of the state's Department of Public Welfare is urging caution.

The General Assembly's immediate response to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case was to create a task force to look into what's needed to make children in the commonwealth safer. More than four months later, proposals modeled on those suggestions are coming up for votes.

But "kneejerk" was the word uttered recently by one county human services administrator concerned that the proposals would mean more unfunded mandates being passed down to counties.

DPW Acting Secretary Bev Mackereth fielded questions and comments during the administrators' spring meeting Monday, encouraging them to talk to their local state lawmakers about the child protection measures under consideration by the state House and Senate.

"I have cautioned everybody to move cautiously because whatever we do will have or can have a significant impact on counties," she said.

Mackereth, who started out as a children's case worker in York County, said what's more troubling is that the reforms being proposed don't get to the heart of what ails county child protection services - staffs that are marked by high turnover, low pay and little experience.

"The structural piece of that system has got to be addressed first," she said. "I was that 22-year-old who was supposed to go into those homes and figure out - and you know, I look back now and I could just - you know what you missed now, 30 years later."

The state Senate is considering 16 different bills regarding child protection. On Monday, House lawmakers sent one measure to the state Senate that would temporarily allow law enforcement to go to internet service providers to get identifying information about people being investigated for using the web to exploit children.

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