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Parents calling for more ‘oversight’ of private doctors

Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law requires people who work or volunteer with children to get comprehensive background checks, which include a check of the state’s child abuse and criminal history databases, and an FBI check. However, the responsibility for these checks for private organizations rests with the employer, said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, a child advocacy agency based in Berks County.

Marion Callahan | March 4, 2019 | The Intelligencer | 

"You are really expecting pediatric practices, local churches and other private groups to understand the legal requirements and then follow through with them," said Palm.

Palm said there are lessons to extract from this, for both employers and parents. She admitted she's never walked into her child's pediatrician's office and asked about background checks.

In many cases of crimes against children, too, perpetrators have a clean record. She said parents can use this opportunity to have a discussion with their children about improper touches. She said such discussions provide a level of protection that no background check could provide.

For employers, she said: "Hopefully it's a signal to employers to make sure they are doing all their due diligence — trust and verify. Don't just trust." Read More...

'This poor kid was doomed from the beginning:'
The tragic life and death of Dante Mullinix

Cathleen Pal, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, said there's a "crazy amount" of expectations on the child welfare system in the United States. But they're "so mismatched by what the law, the resources, the staff who are being asked to do it, can meet," she said.

Dylan Segelbaum | WHEN, 2019 | York Daily Record | 

Palm said there's a lot of dynamics at play as well as information that's not known about what happened to Dante. That includes whether the referrals were for child protective services or general protective services.

"It's kind of an easy thing to say, 'Child welfare screwed u,'" Palm said. "Well, maybe they did make some missteps, but it's equally possible that the missteps that we see as missteps are things that were affected by other systems." Read More...

First of its kind PA report examines child abuse fatalities

Child advocate Cathleen Palm, founder of The Center for Children’s Justice, who was also part of the team that worked on the report, commended the state for the report, but noted that the data is several years old at this point.

Kate Giammarise | February 21, 2019 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 

"This report is an important step towards better understanding and preventing child abuse," Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said in a statement. "I am very thankful for the trend analysis team's work thus far, and we will continue to work closely with our state and local partners and advocates to keep children safe, healthy, and happy." Read More...

Will Grace Packer case put child welfare system on trial?

As the story of Grace Packer’s short life and horrific death plays out in a Bucks County courtroom in the coming weeks, jurors will be focused on Sara Packer and Jacob Sullivan, the two people accused in the 14-year-old’s rape and murder.

Laurie Mason Schroeder | February 17, 2019 | The Allentown Morning Call | 

As the evidence is laid out against the couple, details of Grace's life as a foster child, then an unwanted adopted daughter, may also be revealed.

The details could effectively put Pennsylvania's child welfare system on trial.

"Clearly, it will fill in some pieces of the puzzle," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, a child advocacy agency in Berks County. "After the trial is over, it will be one of those times that we should take a step back and ask what went wrong." Read More...

'Sandusky lovers?' Susquenita superintendent calls auditor general's accusations 'a slap in the face'

Districts having no policy or an outdated one is concerning because clarity and consistency in the policies and messaging to mandated reporters is critical or abused kids can fall through the cracks, said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, a non-profit in Pennsylvania. So while school employees may get training on recognizing child abuse and how to report it every five years, if they go to find the school policy, "that may not only be different but wrong."

Jan Murphy | February 16, 2019 | | 

She also reminded that the potential for criminal or civil liability increases for the mandated reporter if the messages are mixed and the mandated reporter fails to act. Read More...

2-year-old suffers fatal injuries four days after being seen by children’s services

In many child abuse deaths, like in Dante's case, the child was not "off the radar," Palm said.

Christine Vendel | January 25, 2019 | | 

"It is so darn frustrating and unacceptable," she said "Pennsylvania still lacks a sense of urgency about these children. We treat the critical incidences affecting young children as anomalies and yet are they? Or are they happening in every county across the Commonwealth and we are just not sufficiently connecting the dots?"

While there is a criminal case unfolding in regards to Dante's death, " we can't nor should we overlook that he was known to a number of systems – health care, child welfare, domestic violence," Palm said. "It is essential that there be some independent review of all the systems he interacted with and what those interactions entailed toward not just answering critical questions about his life and death, but ultimately toward protecting the collective community of children living in Pennsylvania." Read More...

South Carolina foster care group can reject gays, Jews. What does it mean for Philly?

Cathleen Palm, who founded the Center for Children's Justice, said conflicts between local governments and the religious agencies that contract with them have been popping up nationwide at a time when the need for foster parents remains high. "We do need as many viable and safe and protective options available to give kids as possible," Palm said. "So we do have to be careful as to how much we get ourselves dug in."

Julia Terruso | January 24, 2019 | | 

Still, Palm said, the idea of compartmentalizing groups bothers her. "As a parent first and an advocate second, it's troubling because it really cultivates this idea that we're so different from each other. So, you of Jewish faith can't come over to my Christian foster care agency, and, it's like, shouldn't we fundamentally be about what we want to do on behalf of children?"Read More...

Series of abuse reports lead to same conclusion

Some of the recommendations have paid off. Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, which released a report last week examining the grand jury reports from the past 15 years, said movement has been made. She said the 2006 move raising the age to 50 for victims to report abuse was vital.

This latest grand jury review has put the issue back on the front burner and several lawmakers have pledged to act when the General Assembly returns to Harrisburg later this month.

The Senate has already passed legislation that would abolish the criminal statute of limitations without offering a window for people to file civil lawsuits over old abuse claims. Under the state’s civil statute of limitations, victims have until the age of 30 to sue.

Sunbury Daily Item Editorial | September 3, 2018 | The Daily Item |  Read More...

9 probes in 15 years and victims wait statute of limitations fix

The statute of limitations is by no means the only potential legislative reform that’s been raised by grand jurors. Many other substantial changes have been made said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice. Her organization on Wednesday released a report examining the grand jury investigations of the last 15 years.

Those investigations have included:

  • Five investigating the Catholic Church
  • Two examining public school scandals – in Allegheny and Dauphin counties
  • One looking at a Bucks County private school’s handling of sex abuse allegations
  • The investigation into Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and the Second Mile charity in Centre County.

John Finnerty | August 30, 2018 | The Daily Item |  Read More...

Cash-strapped Duquesne City Schools agreed to $300,000 settlement in child sex abuse case

Previously, so-called chain-of-command rules meant school employees fulfilled their reporting duties by raising concerns with a supervisor rather than taking them to law enforcement or other outside authorities, said Cathleen Palm, founder of The Center for Children’s Justice in Berks County. Schools would typically first conduct their own investigation to decide whether to take the concerns to authorities, she said. “There’s a heightened level of criminal liability and civil liability now if they don’t report,” she said. “But the challenge continues to be, particularly in schools, [determining] is this something that’s inappropriate versus sexual abuse. There still is the tendency in institutions, not just schools, to do their own investigation before they get to an outside authority.”

 Matt McKinney | August 1, 2018 | Pittsburg Post-Gazette | Read More...

Dover sexual assault: School officials 'took the law into their own hands' as abuse continued

“I think the thing that’s most striking about this is almost kind of a familiar and tragic trend that we’ve long seen," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, a nonprofit organization that pulls together people and resources to improve child protection policy and practice in Pennsylvania. Palm said mandated reporters are supposed to make a report — not try to conduct an investigation. 

Dylan Segelbaum | July 30, 2018 | York Daily Record | Read More...

Drug treatment advocates worry about New Britain breast milk homicide case

Child advocate Cathleen Palm, founder and executive the Center for Children’s Justice in Berks County, suggested that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services put out immediate guidance to child welfare agencies to reinforce with clients when breastfeeding is appropriate for mothers taking opiate-replacement drugs. “If I were a mom, I’d be in a panic at this time,” Palm said. “No mom wants to injure their own child.” Available medical research suggests that methadone in any dose cannot accumulate in breast milk in concentrations that would be harmful for breastfeeding infants in the short term; long-term outcomes of infants breastfed by mothers taking opiate-replacement drugs has not been well studied. 

Jo Ciavaglia | Jul 19, 2018 | The Intelligencer | Read More...

New Pennsylvania Law Requires Notifications on All Drug-Exposed Babies

Advocates say the new law is an attempt to chart a new course for how the state responds to infants affected by prenatal drug exposure. “We don’t want the only door open to children and families affected by drugs to be the child welfare system,” said Cathleen Palm of the Center for Children’s Justice. Parents must be contacted within 24 hours of the receipt of the report. The details about which agency should become responsible for parents and children exposed to drugs and the extent of their involvement has not yet been finalized, and the state is now working to develop a set of protocols that would guide inter-agency work around this population when the bill takes effect on October 1, 2018. The law, Act 54, comes in reaction to the increasing number of drug-exposed babies born in Pennsylvania. According to a Pennsylvania Department of Health report, there were 3,897 babies exposed to illegal drugs before birth in 2016, a 30 percent increase of drug-exposed babies over the past five years. 

Marisol Zarate | July 17, 2018 | The Chronicle of Social Change | Read More...


Pennsylvania cannot let up in its efforts to keep children safe from abuse

Cathleen Palm, of The Center for Children’s Justice, said in an interview that the problem is more complicated than that. She said it’s true that some cases should be referred to agencies other than Children and Youth. At the same time, she and other children’s advocates worry that general protective services cases are too often screened out at the county level instead of being investigated fully. Say, for instance, there is domestic violence in a child’s home, but it’s not directed at the child. The child may not be in imminent danger, but at some point, the violence may extend to him or her. A general protective services report should be regarded as a red flag, Palm said, because a significant number of children who die, or nearly die, from abuse previously were in that general category. Data on these cases didn’t need to be kept in Pennsylvania until 2015; now that data is being collected, Palm said, it needs to be analyzed and researched. “We have to ... ask ourselves some very tough questions about what the general protective services (category) means, and what action it triggers in Pennsylvania,” Palm said. We agree that such research seems necessary. Where the safety of children is concerned, the more information — and the more attention being paid — the better.

 LNP Editorial Board | July 7, 2018 | LNP | Read More...

New law requires hospitals to alert child welfare about drug-exposed newborns

The new law will directly impact how newborns are treated, by requiring that child protection services develop a plan of care for the infant, said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County. That plan is supposed to assure that the child is in a safe setting when he or she is released from the hospital and that the mother and other adults with addiction issues in the home are provided treatment, according to a legislative summary of Act 54.

John Finnerty | Jul 5, 2018 | Sunbury Daily Item | Read More...

Pa. law aims to protect newborns of moms in opioid addiction

“It is troubling and telling that the governor renews the opioid emergency and signs this legislation on the same day, and yet no one pays attention to it,” said Cathleen Palm, head of the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Children’s Justice. “It feels like we’re a state that’s not totally ignoring the impact of opioids on babies, but it’s a sidebar conversation.”

Marie McCullough | June 29, 2018 | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Read More...

Wolf to sign bill to help protect opioid-dependent newborns

Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children’s Justice in Berks County, is part of a state work group helping draft those protocols. She called the legislation creating a standardized protocol combined with a public health approach a huge step in the right direction to protecting babies and connecting their families with social and behavior services. “The way the law works now, it’s child welfare or nowhere and that is the problem. We know one reason people were not putting infants and families on the radar is because it felt the only door that would open was the child welfare door and people so disliked that it was the child welfare door,” she said.

Jo Ciavaglia | Jun 28, 2018 | Bucks County Courier Times | Read More...

Pennsylvania lags in developing a plan
of protection for infants affected by drugs

Reducing the risk in the home means addressing the parents’ addiction, said workgroup member Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Center for Children’s Justice in Berks County. She added that the state should work to engage families earlier, “and we have to do it from a public health perspective.”

Kimberly Palmiero | June 7, 2018 | Public Source |  Read More...

Michigan Senate panel:
Coaches must report sexual abuse

"That's what happens in child sexual abuse: They do it in secrecy." Cathleen Palm, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Center for Children's Justice, said about Sandusky and Nassar. "If you're not training people but legally obligating them to make reports, then you're indirectly and unintentionally undercutting child protection."

ALICE YIN Associated Press | June 6, 2018 | Bristol Herald Courier |  Read More...

Child services missed warnings
as children starved in house of horrors

Children are left in homes where sexual allegations have been lodged "more often than we should," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice in Pennsylvania.

"But what does that tell you about the child's environment? The practice is too often, 'close the case.' But should we have kept this case open longer?"

Christine Vendel | May 22, 2018 | | 

Auditor general: $90M needed
to fix broken child welfare system

While all parties agree there is tremendous pressure on the child welfare system and the people working in it, Pennsylvania needs to examine whether it created "unintended consequences" with recent changes in the Child Protective Services Law that flooded the system with reports driven by legal liability concerns rather than a "reasonable" suspicion of child abuse, added Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County.

She also pointed out that the state currently invests in child abuse prevention programs that are effective, but that there is little tracking and monitoring of what is, and isn't, working already.

"Pennsylvania has no statewide plan for preventing child abuse, so much of what is being done, even when valuable, is fragmented with prevention programs being funded by various state offices with little, to no, tracking of overall investment made and outcome achieved," she added.

Jo Ciavaglia | May 16, 2018 | The Intelligencer |  Read More...

The needle in the family tree:
Opioids swamping child welfare system

Nonetheless, parental drug abuse alone isn't justification enough to remove a child from a home under Pennsylvania laws, noted Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, based in Berks County.

State law says courts can rule a child dependent — and remove the child from parents indefinitely — if the child lacks "proper parental care or control," and for related reasons. The court has to find that staying in the home would be "contrary to the welfare, safety or health of the child," and that all reasonable alternatives have been tried. Then the court has to seek circumstances "best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental, and moral welfare of the child."

Addiction is rarely the only problem a troubled family faces, Ms. Palm said, and complex problems require thoughtful solutions.

"There's childhood trauma. There's unstable housing. There's accessing the right kind of treatment," she said. "If we don't understand that, then we may not really have enough put in place to help [a mother] and this family avoid what can be pitfall after pitfall after pitfall."

Rich Lord | Apr 30, 2018 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette |  Read More...

Pennsylvania moves closer to increasing protection for drug-exposed babies

Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director for Children's Justice in Berks County, who sits on the state work group, is among those worried that finalizing the protocols could take up to six months, but lawmakers will feel the pressure to hurry up and pass a bill to meet the June 30 deadline.

"If you can't, on the same day this becomes a law, have a specific set of well-understood protocols and practices then we could be unintentionally creating loopholes where infants fall off the radar," Palm said.

The delay in introducing legislation to bring the state into CAPTA compliance has centered on drafting a law that protects the drug-affected children but does not unintentionally punish the mother with a substance abuse disorder, a move that many child advocates believe discourages pregnant drug users from seeking or continuing drug treatment and prenatal care, Palm said.

Palm applauded the proposed amendment for specifying that referrals should not be deemed as child abuse as "quite significant and extremely instructive."

"The language underscores that we want women to feel at ease honestly discussing their use of drugs so that they can receive treatment they need," Palm added. "They can be prepared, as well as health care staff, for any side effects the baby might develop based on the exposure."

Jo Ciavaglia | Apr 27, 2018 | Doylestown Intelligencer |  Read More...

Despite some progress, counties await child protection answers

"I'll be curious to hear what Eugene's report says," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice.

DePasquale's initial report brought attention to the problems facing the child protection system, but it didn't reveal a lot of new data to quantify how bad things are statewide, Palm said.

Other efforts to help

The auditor general is not the only person who's been working to reform the system, Palm said.

State health officials used Gov. Tom Wolf's opioid emergency declaration to order hospitals to begin quickly notifying the state when they treat babies born with drugs in their system.

That will allow state and county officials to more rapidly discern when there are spikes in drug activity and what drugs are involved, she said.

John Finnerty | Apr 20, 2018 | CNHI Harrisburg Bureau |  Read More...

Local child advocates will be watching Pennsylvania Supreme Court case involving prenatal drug use

Cathleen Palm, the founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County, noted that Congress has consistently reinforced that its 2003 mandate that local child welfare authorities develop a plan of safe care for infants with prenatal drug exposure is not a punitive measure, but a protective one.

Palm was among the advocates who wondered if the high court found prenatal narcotics exposure meets the state's child abuse definition, how it would impact women properly taking prescribed opiate replacement drugs, known as Medication Assisted Treatment. MAT is a commonly prescribed therapy for pregnant heroin abusers as part of drug treatment, but it carries the same risk of developing NAS in newborn as taking illegal opiates.

"That seems to become a pretty slippery slope," Palm added.

Jo Ciavaglia | Apr 10, 2018 | Doylestown Intelligencer |  Read More...

Inside Game: The Key Players Behind Washington's Biggest Foster Care Reform in Decades

Off Capitol Hill, advocates began to drum up public support for Family First before it was even introduced in the House in June 2016. By the time actual text was submitted for markup in the House Ways and Means Committee, First Focus, a D.C.-based advocacy organization, had already organized a sign-on letter campaign, as had the Pennsylvania Center for Children's Justice.

Daniel Heimpel | March 7, 2018 | | 

Early numbers paint picture of opioid crisis' impact on newborns

Palm believes part of the reason for the lack of consensus on data collection is that pregnant substance abusers are an extremely complicated population that fall into multiple categories including medical, behavioral health, child welfare and social services. They are also a population that face the added magnification of stigma, so they are less likely to seek out help, she added.

Jo Ciavaglia | Mar 1, 2018 | | 

Babies addicted to opioids: A crisis crying for a count

Four years ago, Cathleen Palm, a longtime child advocate, was reviewing summaries of fatal child abuse cases across Pennsylvania when she was struck by a recurring theme — a history of newborn drug withdrawal. Her nonprofit group, the Center for Children's Justice, began asking the state Department of Human Services for data on NAS, starting with babies covered by Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor.

Marie McCullough & Dylan Purcell - Staff Writers | February 23, 2018 | |  Read More...

Does Pennsylvania law allow parents to punch their children in the face?

"As a society, we give a lot of latitude to what parents can do to their children," said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice in Pennsylvania. All 50 states allow for corporal punishment, with varying degrees of specificity. Pennsylvania's law seems to fall in the middle by forbidding certain outcomes such as "serious injury," but allowing discipline as a defense.

Christine Vendel | Feb. 23, 2018 | | 

Pennsylvania bill would expand child abuse reporting requirements

"If everyone is making calls because we want to avoid legal liability, it may mean we have a bucket of reports that is much bigger than what comes close to constituting child abuse," said Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice, in Berks County. "That has implications in that, what is the magic recipe? Which reports do we respond to? Are we reporting because of liability purpose or because we really believe a child is a victim of abuse?"

Jo Ciavaglia | Feb. 21, 2018 | Bucks County Courier Times |  Read More...

Child welfare loophole remains open

Cathleen Palm is the founder and executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County. She also sits on the state work group on prenatal substance exposure. She confirmed the committee has met monthly for more than a year and recently added health care representatives that work with pregnant drug users. "I think the challenge is we're trying to figure out what is really complicated stuff in both policy and practices with moms and babies and how to balance what both need at a time when there is an ongoing opiate crisis," Palm said.

Jo Ciavaglia | Jan. 12, 2018 | Bucks County Courier Times |  Read More...

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