Dauphin County child agency announces changes, improvements following tragedy

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – After the tragedy of Jarrod Tutko Jr., issues arose with the agency tasked to prevent such abuse. A year later, Dauphin County Children and Youth Services announced improvements and new standards of operation.

The memory of watching flies crawl across a feces-covered “dungeon” last August still makes Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico cringe. Uncovering the tortured dead body of a 16.9 pound 9-year-old boy shook the community and the agency who visited the Tutko home just months prior.

Thirteen months later, Marsico said the steps taken to remedy gaps and holes inside CYS have drastically improved children safety.

“We’re better than where we were than the night I stood in Jarrod Tutko’s room,” he said.

That’s why Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries said the boy did not die in vain.

“They say that from a bad a good can happen,” he said. “That’s what I believe we have.”

Tutko’s tragedy was the catalyst for change. A grand jury of peers set forth a myriad of recommendations, 84 citations, and a downgrade of its license with the state for child protection services.

Former CYS director Joe Dougher came out of retirement to become the interim director and oversee a transitional phase of change. On Wednesday morning, he presented 10 improvements to Dauphin County Commissioners.

“Today, I can say with confidence that the changes that have occurred have made the children of Dauphin County safer,” he said.

Those improvements include two specialized units of caseworkers, a child welfare safety inspection protocol, weekly case reviews and random internal reviews, unfounded abuse follow-ups, and ongoing training.

“What you’ve done in this county has made a significant difference in a short amount of time,” Commissioner George Hartwick III said.

Above all, Dougher said they bolstered a tired staff and turned over at least 35 percent of its staff. CYS now has 73 of 83 positions filled and vow they have 10 good candidates to fill the remaining positions.

Dougher said they have hired one part-time worker and will soon hire five more. Dauphin County Clerk Chad Saylor said that a new director of CYS could be named as early as next week.

He said this is a vital step as there has been a 119 percent increase of reported child abuse cases in the county through July. There has also been a 46 percent increase of general protection service cases that deal with home conditions, school attendance, and substance abuse.

Commissioners were quick to point out this is a result of the 23 new state reporting mandates enacted following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.

“More reporting is good,” Marsico said. “The downside of more reporting is we need more people.”

That’s where commissioners had great trepidation of how the public perceives this problem.

“Times are not good across the commonwealth when it to comes to these services,” Commissioner Jeff Haste said.

Haste lambasted state lawmakers for their inaction to put children first. Hartwick echoed those sentiments by stating they failed to provide the resources and funding needed to handle to the new mandate on the local level.

“A reduction of $400 million out of the child welfare budget that’s been proposed in the actual house proposed budget, it’s ludicrous,” he said.

Dougher said the changes made to CYS were on the heels of a $1.8 million reduction in funding for the fiscal year.

Marsico said he met with Senator Majority Leader Jake Corman last week to discuss the need for more funding. He said he sympathizes with the legislature, but is also frustrated that more is not being done to protect children.

He said government cannot protect every child everywhere, but there needs to be an effort to prevent and prosecute those who endanger the safety of children.

“We’re not gonna stop [child abuse],” Marsico said, “but we want to do the best that we can to make sure the children are safer.”

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