Pa. House discusses child safety; Perry County CYS makes cringe-worthy misstep

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The House Children and Youth Committee heard testimony Monday from caseworkers on the front lines of child abuse and neglect.

It wasn’t pretty.

“We’re oftentimes called numerous names or threatened,” said Shiloh Hagerty, a caseworker from Cumberland County CYS.

Hagerty testified that since two dozen new laws took effect in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial, caseloads, stress and paperwork have increased significantly while pay and staffing levels have stayed stagnant; conditions, she said, that are chasing away good people.

“If the deficiencies in the child welfare field are not fixed, this is not a career I can continue in myself,” Hagerty said.

Nicholas Ranney, a caseworker with Franklin County CYS, reinforced Hagerty’s testimony. He said new hires don’t get sufficient training for the real-world challenges they’ll face on the job.

Ranney concluded his testimony, “I fear that children will be left behind, hurt, neglected or forgotten. I don’t seek change to better my work life, I seek change to better the life of a child.”

Several child welfare advocates from the Midstate were in the audience during the packed hearing.

“Thank goodness they’ve opened it up and it’s been vocalized,” said Cindy Weesner, a grassroots advocate from Cumberland County.

Weesner was thrilled that the state House held a hearing on the topic, but she cringed when Chairwoman Representative Kathy Watson (R-Bucks) suggested that Monday’s hearing was just the beginning of a long conversation on child welfare agencies.

“I think children are going to die more frequently and, unfortunately, we’ll be seeing these news reports all too often,” Weesner said.

Reports like those of 12-year-old Ciara Meyer, killed when her father got in a shootout with a constable who was evicting the family. But six weeks after Ciara’s death, the family got a letter from Perry County Children and Youth Services. It concluded, “Perry County Children and Youth Services is anxious to assist you in every way we can to provide a safe, nurturing, home for your child. Please contact the caseworker listed below.”

Ciara’s uncle by marriage, Ron Rohde, shared the letter with ABC27 and he could barely finish reading it for us.

“We don’t have the child,” Rohde said with great anguish. “She’s gone.”

The pain is not gone and the letter proves, in the family’s view, incompetence by the professionals who should have been protecting Ciara.

“Everybody’s dropping the ball, everybody,” Rohde said.

The family blames both Perry County and Dauphin County CYS for Ciara’s death since she had contact with both agencies. Perry County CYS did not return a phone call seeking comment about the letter.

“The last thing you want is to ever have a child death, ever,” said Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick, who oversees CYS. He testified at Monday’s hearing and told ABC27 afterward that the county is doing the best it can with the resources it has.

“You want the system to be there,” Hartwick said, “but it’s also what’s happening in somebody’s home that’s critically important, you know? We’re always looking for places to assess blame. Well, what about family? What about individuals that are supposed to caretakers?”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.

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