HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The allegations are horrific: a couple in Steelton housing 11 children in filth and squalor.
It was discovered in July and the children were removed from the home and placed with others. Takeya, mother to all the children, and Tyree, father to some, were arrested and charged this week.
There are many questions about what went on behind closed doors on the 500 block of North Second Street. How can parents neglect their children, as authorities say they did, with dirty diapers on the floor, broken toilets, and feces on clothes and stuffed animals? Eleven children in a row house and nobody saw anything?
“You really couldn’t tell. There were so many people in there,” said Maurice Henderson, a neighbor who lived three doors from the Fluellens. “I thought there were four or five kids, but somebody told me it was 10 or 11.”
The Tutko case in Harrisburg was gruesome. A boy died of neglect. Dauphin County Children and Youth Services was blasted for failing to oversee. Heads rolled, changes were made. So how did Steelton happen so soon after?
“I do not believe Dauphin County Children and Youth dropped the ball in this case,” said Sean McCormack, a Dauphin County Deputy District Attorney who will likely prosecute the Fluellen case. He praises the CYS investigator who persisted in Steelton after getting a tip from the public. He says that persistence is likely a result of a more aggressive attitude within the agency following the Tutko case.
“When they go to the door (Fluellen’s) and there’s no answer, they didn’t just turn around and go back to their offices,” McCormick said.
Court documents say that CYS’s Carrie Shanahan heard children in the house. She called police for assistance. When no one answered the door, they called Judge John Cherry, who granted them permission to enter the home. Her persistence paid off and a bad situation was stopped before it got worse.
That was the right result, but a former state Department of Public Welfare secretary tells ABC 27 that across the state, CYS investigators are frequently young, lacking life experience and proper training to make such important assessments in homes that are potentially neglectful.
McCormack doesn’t disagree with that overall assessment.
“You’re a college student, you just graduated, here’s your first job and now I’m being asked to look at this situation,” McCormack said.
Takeya Fluellen had 11 kids that she apparently couldn’t care for, which leads to another question: why keep having them? Many are quick to criticize the welfare system for enabling.
“There are a lot of families that are big families,” McCormack said. “That doesn’t mean that people are just having kids to get money. I certainly hear the same thing. I’m sure you hear it that somebody has x number of children and they’re collecting welfare.”
Citing privacy, officials won’t say how much public assistance the Fluellens were getting. ABC 27 hopes to sit down with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services next week to get answers to the welfare riddle. The point person on that topic was unavailable Friday.
In Steelton, the houses are bigger than they appear from the street. They actually have five bedrooms. Neighbors say the Fluellens pretty much kept to themselves, but once the cleanup began in the summer it was apparent to all it was a bad, bad place.
“The entire block smelled bad for a good month while they had the dumpster sitting here,” Maurice told ABC 27. “The workers came out with tears in their eyes. It was that bad.”