They are two entirely different stories.
One involving 11 African-American children found living in filth in a rowhouse in Steelton, Dauphin County, according to authorities. The parents have been charged.
The other, a 12-year-old white girl killed in an apartment complex in Duncannon, Perry County. Her father is charged for allegedly confronting a constable with a rifle. The constable fired a shot that passed through the dad and killed the daughter.
Two recent, high-profile cases in the Midstate, on opposite sides of the Susquehanna, that have caused many to wonder if the state is doing enough to keep kids safe?
Alice Gehman says no. She’s Ciara Meyer’s grandmother who insists Ciara shouldn’t have been in that apartment when a constable knocked on the door.
“We would go to Children and Youth,” Gehman told ABC 27. “They come out and checked it out and gave us Ciara for two months. But then they sent her back again.”
Gehman says her daughter, (Ciara’s mother) and Ciara’s father, battled addiction and mental illness. She says the family raised the alarm with officials but feels that medical professionals, police, and Children and Youth all had parts of the picture but never compared notes or connected the dots. She says the family wasn’t listened to. The system failed, Gehman says, and Ciara died.
“If you’re crying for help, why isn’t it given to you?” Gehman said. “Are these people that busy that they cannot take time out to see what your problem is? If you’re crying out for help what do you gotta do?”
The short answer is yes. Children and Youth agencies across the commonwealth are extremely busy.
“They are, right now, overwhelmed,” said Cathy Utz, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Deputy Director for Children and Youth.
Each of the 67 counties has a Children and Youth agency. There are basic services they all must provide but they mostly operate independently. The state’s role is to oversee and license the county agencies. Utz says in the wake of Jerry Sandusky, new laws have passed that require mandatory reporting from more people. And Utz said those laws are working. There are a lot more calls leading to more investigations and more responsibilities for individual case workers.
“But that shouldn’t compromise the quality of the investigations we’re doing,” Utz said.
Utz says retaining quality investigators is tough because turnover is high. The work is not for the feint of heart.
“We call it ‘vicarious trauma’. They’re traumatized by what they see each and every day,” Utz said.
But Utz doesn’t hide behind excuses. When kids are hurt or killed her office follows up immediately. Because of confidentiality rules she can’t comment on specific cases but says high-profile cases like those in Dauphin and Perry counties are being investigated.
“We always want to look at it and say, ‘what could have been done differently? Who is accountable for those actions?'” Utz said.
Dauphin County, along with York and Luzerne Counties, have provisional licenses, which means their status has been downgraded by the state. Utz says her office has been overseeing Dauphin County Children and Youth and she is pleased with its progress and new leadership
After seeing sensational cases, Utz understands public outrage and its quick pointing of fingers. She just wishes the public was just as quick to acknowledge the hard and selfless work that’s keeping kids safe. Because of privacy rules her agency can’t trumpet the successes. That doesn’t mean they’re not happening.
“There’s a lot of good that happens in each of our 67 counties each and every day,” Utz said. “And that’s probably something we don’t talk about enough.”Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC 27 News App and the ABC 27 Weather App for your phone or tablet.