My statement on the Devereux child abuse scandal

In August, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an investigative piece on a disturbing series of incidents of sexual abuse occurring at Devereux over a period of many years, and in several states.

Since I have worked in child welfare as a volunteer child advocate for children in foster care in Philadelphia and, more recently, as a child abuse investigator for Chester County Children Youth and Families, I have known of Devereux. I cannot say that I expected these revelations, but I cannot say that they are surprising.

In the child welfare and social work field, work in institutional care is not preferred, and like other aspects of child welfare work, is subject to burnout among staff.

I have a constituent who sends me almost daily communications about staffing issues in the behavioral health field, with the concern being that there are steadily decreasing qualifications for work with children, the disabled, in special education, etc. Indeed, the Inquirer article pointed out that employees at Devereux were paid $14.86 per hour in 2020, a raise from $12.50. To put that in context, my 17-year-old just started his first job, at Target, earning $15 per hour stocking shelves. While that work is necessary, I think we can all agree that the full-time care of children with special needs is a job that should be able to offer greater incentives to bring in qualified people than Target, especially when Devereux charges as much as $84,000 per client.  

After this article was published, I was immediately in discussion with the leadership of the PA House Human Services Committee, on which I sit. Recently, this committee held a hearing to hear from the CEO and other top officials regarding what is going on at Devereux.

We also heard from parents and grandparents whose family members may have to be removed and who are not currently able to live at home. In the time since, city officials in Philadelphia have announced all 53 children that they had placed with Devereux will be withdrawn following their 6-week investigation into Devereux’s operations. They concluded that the staff were not supervising the children correctly -- if they were at all.

The question, of course, remains: what can be done for these children? Where do they go? It would be easy to say, “shut it down” and, indeed, other facilities have justifiably been shut down. However, there are children and young adults who are not able to live at home, and we need to figure this out.

Certainly, Devereux and similar facilities need to be paying their staffs better and screening and monitoring them more carefully. They are dependent on governments paying for the services they provide, and this puts us in the position of being able to demand better, and we will.

Unfortunately, it is also not desirable to close these facilities without another place for their wards to be sent, and the problem is that those other places will likely themselves have similar issues of low-paid and under-screened and under-monitored staff. It similarly strikes me as undesirable to send these children out to be taken care of by families that likely do not have the means to care for them.

This will be a complicated issue with many concerns to attend to, but I look forward to working with my colleagues in the PA House on beginning to address the underlying issues with staffing and pay when the new legislative session begins in January. I hope to spend the time before then consulting with as many of the relevant stakeholders as possible so that we can have the best possible proposal ready for my colleagues to consider.

I don’t promise easy solutions, but I promise to find the best ones possible.