Consultant Lays Out Revolutionary Plan

Consultant Lays Out Revolutionary Plan

Bev Mackereth, Lackawanna County’s consultant to revitalize the troubled Office of Youth and Family Services, laid out the county’s plan to revolutionize the agency and vastly improve services and life for vulnerable children and families, in a presentation Wednesday to fellow social service professionals.

Mackereth, a former state representative, former state secretary of human services and a widely acknowledged expert on child welfare, spoke to the Lackawanna Interagency Council, an umbrella group for more than 60 community based and public social service agencies.

The Lackawanna County Office and Youth and Family Services has been operating under a provisional state license since May 2023. In June last year, five current or former caseworkers or supervisors were charged criminally with endangering children. A local judge dismissed the charges in January, but District Attorney Mark Powell has filed an appeal in an effort to reinstate them.

Mackereth detailed the problems facing the OYFS and the innovative program that she and the county commissioners’ team have developed to correct them – the Family First Community Pathways project, which the county plans to operate in partnership with the state Department of Human Services.

The program flows from the federal Family First Prevention Act, adopted by Congress in 2018, which seeks to keep children out of foster care and improve outcomes for families by treating child welfare as a crucial public health priority. The federal government approved Pennsylvania’s participation in 2023, and Lackawanna County is the first Pennsylvania county to develop a specific program.

Mackereth described the program as an all-out effort to identify and help troubled families and children before they get into the OYFS system, which is a last resort to protect children, often by removing them from their families and placing them in foster care.

 As Mackereth noted, Lackawanna County – outside of the government alone – has robust systems of social services, health care, education and other crucial services that could help families before their problems result in crises requiring the attention of OYFS. The task, she said, is to create a coordinated system to bring those resources to bear.

Commissioners Bill Gaughan and Matt McGloin recently decided to close the county Department of Health, which they determined through an exhaustive process to be financially unsustainable, and to create an office of public health focused on helping to resolve the problems facing OYFS. They have asked former DOH employees to work within the new system.

The new program requires state approval, which is pending, and the county administration is working doggedly on developing the structure, job descriptions and other administrative machinery to make the program work.

The presentation can be viewed here.