Capitol Briefs: Auditor General report shows more must be done to protect at-risk children

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
DePasquale -

WILKES-BARRE — Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week said the latest statewide child-protection report shows that 40 children died and 88 nearly died from abuse and neglect in 2017 with 64 percent of those children already known to the child-welfare system.

“Forty children died from abuse or neglect in 2017,” DePasquale said. “Forty children. That’s six fewer child deaths than in 2016, but we are talking about children’s lives here. If even one child dies, it’s too many.”

DePasquale said the Department of Human Services’ 2017 Annual Child Protective Services Report posted online this week reinforces what he’s been saying about the state’s child-welfare system: It is broken and more needs to be done to protect at-risk children from abuse and neglect.

“What’s terrifying to me is that although more children were identified as victims and brought into the system in 2017, more children also nearly died,” DePasquale said. “If that’s not the definition of broken, I don’t know what is.

“More and more reports of abuse and neglect come in each year,” DePasquale continued, “but very few county children and youth agencies have seen an increase in the number of caseworkers assigned to assess and protect these children. Most counties haven’t had a full complement of caseworkers in years.”

The report shows not only a continuing increase in the number of abuse and neglect reports received, but also a spike in the percentage of parents struggling with substance abuse while the opioid crisis rages on and a potential meth epidemic is coming.

“So much more must be done to protect children. It is way past time that we as a commonwealth take child protection seriously and make it the priority it deserves to be,” DePasquale said. “That’s why I created my ‘State of the Child Action Plan,’ which lists 28 specific ways the governor, the General Assembly and other leaders can work together to help keep kids safer.”

Key facts

• Overall reports of abuse and neglect rose 8 percent from 2016-17. That’s a 15 percent increase in overall reports since 2015.

• There were 163,852 General Protective Service reports (those that do not directly allege abuse) in 2017, and about 50 percent of those were screened out. Of the reports determined to be valid, parental substance abuse was identified as a problem in about one out of every four families (about 26 percent). That’s a 5 percent increase over 2016, when about one out of every five families dealt with parental substance abuse (about 21 percent).

• ChildLine handled 178,583 calls, an increase of 7 percent over 2016. About 3.5 percent of those calls went unanswered.

Baker seeks compensation for

landowners in Delaware River Basin

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, has launched an effort to require compensation for landowners in the Delaware River Basin, including those in Wayne and Pike counties, who are in jeopardy of losing valuable property rights to a pending ban on natural gas drilling.

Since 2009, landowners have been living under a moratorium that has prevented them from realizing the economic benefits enjoyed by those in other parts of the state. Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced his support for a permanent ban, and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is expected to make a final decision later this year.

Calling the situation indefensible, Baker announced the introduction of legislation, SB 1189, declaring such action must be paid for by the DRBC.

“In my judgment, such deprivation of property rights constitutes a taking, just the same as if the property were condemned for any other public use,” Baker said. “Landowners are entitled to compensation calculated in the same manner as is any other eminent domain action.”

Individuals and landowner groups have pursued multiple political and legal avenues to assert their rights, without resolution.

“This is a major economic boost enjoyed by countless others across Pennsylvania, but unfairly denied to landowners and this region as a whole,” Baker added. “Many of these folks are also paying state taxes to support development in other parts of Pennsylvania, while being denied their own opportunity.

Rite Aid plans 100 in-store

medication disposal units

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith this week joined Rite Aid’s President and Chief Operating Officer Kermit Crawford, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, and state Rep. Sheryl Delozier to launch the pharmacy’s first in-store medication disposal unit.

Rite Aid’s unit — with a total of 100 planned at stores nationwide — joins the more than 730 prescription drug take-back boxes available in pharmacies, Pennsylvania State Police barracks, and local police and government offices around the commonwealth.

“As the Wolf Administration fights the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, we need strong partnerships between the public and private sectors to maximize response on all fronts,” Smith said. “Increasing availability and awareness of take-back boxes makes Pennsylvanians safer, and I thank Rite Aid for their commitment to fighting this crisis.”

Medication disposal units, or take-back boxes, allow people to take an active role in making their homes and communities safer by lowering the risk of prescription drug misuse. More than 52,000 pounds of prescription drugs have been disposed of in 2018. To date, 400,000 pounds of prescription drugs have been safely disposed of at Pennsylvania’s take-back boxes since 2014.

Smith encouraged Pennsylvanians with unused and unneeded medications to utilize this and other safe disposal units around Pennsylvania.

“Prescription drug misuse is a major catalyst for the heroin and opioid epidemic that we are fighting every day, and too many people with an opioid use disorder obtain medicine from family and friends’ medicine cabinets,” she said. “Disposing of medication is a small step that can make a big difference towards protecting yourself and loved ones.”

A map of take-back box locations searchable by county and zip code can be found on the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs’ website. For more information on the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, visit


By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.