Frequently Asked Questions
- Age children can be left alone - is it illegal to leave them alone?
- School Attendance - Elementary aged children involvement from CYS?
- Why isn't a parent reportable to law enforcement for physical injury?
- Is C&Y required to let the reporter know the results of the investigation?
- Explain educational custody, who has it (foster parents, C&Y, parent)?
- Dependent children & truancy - C&Y's role & role/responsibility of district justice? When will C&Y get involved?
- Does CYS have psychologists who are contracted to state if child has a serious mental injury or must the reporter get this?
- Periodically we see kids who are maybe 15 (older adolescent) who feel they have been abused and want to move out. Can they self report? Is this encouraged?
- What constitutes intervention when children are living in deplorable situations?
- How do you prepare children aging out of C&Y (via graduation or age) for life when they have lived out of county or have a MR/MH diagnosis?
Age children can be left alone - is it illegal to leave them alone?
There is no statute in Pennsylvania that we are aware of that sets an age limit for children being left alone. We generally do not approve of children under age 12 being left alone for any significant period of time. Certainly children from 0 to 9 years should never be left alone for any period of time.
Parents could be and have been charged with endangering the welfare of a child for leaving children unattended. We encourage reporting to law enforcement at the time children are alone so that an assessment of ability/endangerment can occur.
School Attendance - Elementary aged children involvement from CYS?
The County Court has established a truancy response policy. Basically, District Justices have responsibility for initial efforts to curtail truancy via hearings and fines at the District Justice level. If this does not resolve the truancy problem after two hearings before the District Justice, at the third District Justice hearing, the District Justice has the option to refer the child and family to Children and Youth for dependency. Do all children referred for dependency after truancy end up in some sort of care? No. If truancy can be resolved by providing some in-home intervention for the family, this is a successful resolution. If families continue to resist resolution, Court intervention is a path that is open and can and is taken by the Agency in stubborn cases.
Why isn't a parent reportable to law enforcement for physical injury?
Because the legislature has chosen to exclude parents as being reportable to law enforcement for one (1) category of physical injury only. "Serious physical injury, which is defined as: An injury that 1) causes a child severe pain; or 2) significantly impairs a child's physical functioning, either temporarily or permanently."
For all other forms of reportable abuse, serious bodily injury (more serious injuries) and sexual abuse, parents are able to be reported, and are, routinely. Our assessment is that the legislators believe that less serious kinds of cases occurring in a family setting can be handled in a more private manner. In many cases, this has been true. Parents sometimes lose their tempers and act out spontaneously against a child. It can be a one-time event that with proper services, counseling, parenting education, anger management can have a successful closure.
Is C&Y required to let the reporter know the results of the investigation? If not, why?
The Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) permits, does not require, the Children and Youth Agency to provide a mandated reporter the following information: 1) the final status of the child abuse report following the investigation, whether it be indicated, founded or unfounded; 2) any services provided, arranged for or to be provided by the County Agency to protect the child. Required reporters who report student abuse are entitled only to the final status of the report.
The Children and Youth Agency generally reports back to required reporters using a form called the "Acknowledgement of/Decision on Referral". If you are a required reporter, you should receive one of these forms. If you don't you can call and ask that one be provided to you.
Explain educational custody, who has it (foster parents, C&Y, parent)?
We are not aware of "Educational Custody". When Children and Youth has legal custody (through juvenile court order) of a child, our Agency, and by extension, foster parents, have the authority as legal custodians to enroll children in school. It is important to understand that there are at least two separate degrees of custody concerning Children and Youth youth: If we have court ordered custody, it is generally called temporary, as our goal, again generally, is to return children to family (not always parents). In this type of case, which is the majority for those cases in which we have custody, parents retain many important rights and the Children and Youth Agency must consult with parents or in their absence the Juvenile Court Judge in order to gain permission to have children engage in a variety of activities, not the least of which is taking medication.
The other type of custody is in a situation in which parental rights have been terminated by the Juvenile or Orphans' Court. In these situations, Children and Youth is placed in loco parentis of a child and we have greater flexibility in approving requests concerning children as the Agency is acting as the child's parent until adoption is finalized. In these situations, the Juvenile Court Judge retains final approval on significant requests.
Dependent children & truancy - C&Y's role & role/responsibility of district justice? When will C&Y get involved?
Truancy is most certainly an issue that is present in every school district to one degree or another. The Juvenile Act (42 Pa.C.S.Sec.6301 et.seq.) at ?6302 defines a dependent child, in part, as a child who, "while subject to compulsory school attendance is habitually and without justification truant from school." There might be some disagreement concerning the definition of habitually, but there is general agreement that children of school age (8 to 16 in PA) should routinely be in attendance in school. There is no generally agreed upon formula for referral of truant students to Children and Youth, other than a procedure put in place by Judge Turgeon in the late 90's. The procedure was put into a document called "Expectations of School Districts Concerning Truancy", a copy can be obtained by contacting the agency.
A school professional could reasonably respond that the expectations may be fine for older students, but what about elementary age students who miss a lot of school. There may be many things occurring that might be keeping a youngster from school attendance, and we would not disagree. However, we can reasonably expect that a school district would take some affirmative action to determine the cause of truancy of a very young student prior to referral to Children and Youth. Children and Youth will assess reports of truancy of elementary age students as we too believe that there may be other issues at work to keep a student away from school and that young students, especially, should be in school, in a safe learning environment.
Does CYS have psychologists who are contracted to state if child has a serious mental injury or must the reporter get this?
Children and Youth does not have psychologists who are contracted to state if a child has serious mental injury. The responsibility of determining if a child suffers from serious mental injury under the CPSL falls to a physician or a licensed psychologist.
Children and Youth does have contracts with licensed psychologists for the purpose of evaluation of children and adults in specific circumstances and for case consultation with our professional staff. Their determinations are based upon valid testing and assessment tools normally employed by licensed psychologists. While they sometimes determine that serious mental injury exists, they routinely determine that it does not, at least to the level the CPSL requires.
Periodically we see kids who are maybe 15 (older adolescent) who feel they have been abused and want to move out. Can they self report? Is this encouraged?
Yes, children and adolescents can and should self-report if they find themselves in situations with their families that endanger safety or if they have been victimized in some way.
Working with older adolescents and their parents is a particular challenge as each have positions they strongly defend and getting adolescents and their parents to be willing to honestly confront sensitive issues of long standing can be a monumental struggle for all parties. However, the goal of Children & Youth Services is always first and foremost to keep children safely with their families. We offer numerous services to assist children and families.
What constitutes intervention when children are living in deplorable situations?
This is a very difficult question to answer with any degree of clarity. We receive hundreds of reports concerning living conditions each year. Reasonable adults can disagree concerning the definition of "deplorable situations". Children and Youth personnel look at living situations from the perspective of child safety and well-being. We take into account the child's age and a variety of other factors. In completing evaluations on all intake cases, we use a Commonwealth approved risk assessment tool that assesses fifteen different factors on a scale of low risk to high risk: the higher the risk rating, the greater our concern and the more likely it is that we will intervene in family situations with a goal of risk reduction and safety. (As a note for this response - caseworkers attend a two-day competency training to learn how to conduct risk assessments as part of the certification process for Child Welfare Caseworkers in Pennsylvania.)
The level of our involvement depends upon the threat of safety to the children in the environment. If the safety and health issues are at a high enough risk for us to become involved with a family, but not immediately endangering, we will work with a family to develop a plan to resolve problems while children remain at home. If the safety concerns are immediately endangering, children may be removed from the environment either voluntarily with parental cooperation or through emergency custody via law enforcement or by a court order after the filing of a petition alleging dependency.
How do you prepare children aging out of C&Y (via graduation or age) for life when they have lived out of county or have a MR/MH diagnosis?
Youth who live out of the County are referred to the Independent Living Program in the county where the youth resides. The Independent Living worker in the placing county will continue to provide Case Management services. The Independent Living Caseworker will receive monthly progress reports from the county providing the Independent Living Skills Services to the youth. The placing county will also provide all stipends received by the youth. The Independent Living Caseworker will meet with the youth at least on a quarterly basis. Stipends and/or grants are available to youth wishing to continue their education or need assistance with housing upon discharge from care. These goals are addressed with each youth in detail prior to the youth leaving care. The Independent Living Caseworker will maintain a working relationship with the youth until their twenty-first birthday.
Youth who live out of the County within close proximity will continue to receive Independent Living Services within the placing county. Transportation to classes and/or meetings will be arranged by the provider and placing agency. However, youth aging out of placement that wish to find employment and remain in their residing county will be referred to that county upon discharge from care for Independent Living Aftercare Services.
Youth with a serious emotional disturbance or mental illness may be referred to the CMU - Case Management Unit. The CMU has a program called The JEREMY Project for youth transitioning to adulthood. The Jeremy Project works with youth from age 14 and up that have a mental health case manager. The objective of the program is to help adolescents and young adults who have or are at risk of having a serious emotional disturbance or mental illness successfully transition into adulthood by making sure they have the skills for employment to live independently and to be involved in the community. Youth with mental retardation and their families should contact their MR Supports Coordinator about services and supports for transitioning out of high school.