The last 3 years have provided quite an education for me, and I am not speaking in the formal sense. What I have learned about is the state of the state agencies in Pennsylvania that are charged with protecting children; Children and Youth Serivces (CYS) and the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). The Jerry Sandusky scandal is the lens through which I began to view the story but it is becoming clear that that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The point of this post is not to criticize individual caseworkers as I know they are tremendously overburdened as it is, but rather to critique how the system has failed overall and then tries to deflect from it’s own inadequacies.
The spark of today’s post is the recent update on the case of poor, young Jarrod Tutko Jr. If you aren’t familiar yet, Jarrod is a 9 year old boy who was “found” dead at his home on 29 July, 2014. At that time Jarrod weighed in at 16.9 pounds, or barely 25% of the average weight of a nine year old boy (63 pounds). What was even more appalling was the fact that the boy apparently lay in his feces-covered room dead for at least 2 days before officials were notified by the family. The initial story was that due to the multiple special needs children in the household, the mother and father split duties and the father had not informed the mother out of fear, going on about his routine of pretending to feed the boy. Initially Jarrod Tutko Sr was the only person charged with a crime. It was also known at the time that Dauphin County CYS had performed an investigation in October of 2013 yet apparently did not do much about obvious signs of neglect and abuse.
Then this week the mother, Kimberly Tutko and her husband were both charged with homicide as we found out much more detail on the family and just how much information various state agencies had on the Tutkos. That would be enough to open an investigation by the state on the agencies’ handling of the case. Records indicate that neighboring Schuylkill county had tried to remove children from Mrs. Tutko’s care in 2002, that Kimberly Tutko’s parental rights for four other children had been terminated due to abuse, and that NJ child welfare agencies had contacted DCCYS about the Tutkos in 2006. In fact, Jarrod Tutko Jr was “put on hold” at the hospital after his birth due to an ongoing investigation of the parents!
So here we are once again. We have another high profile case of child abuse where there seems to be a large amount of information and warning signs ignored by professionals in our state agencies. This ignorance cost children in PA. This is the criminal version of the movie Groundhog Day. We are back at the same spot we were with the Sandusky case. Over a period of more than a decade there were clear signs indicating Kimberly and Jarrod Tutko were unfit parents and yet despite a current complaint CYS left children in their care and one poor, defenseless, disabled child died. Another was a mere hours from death.
We also have a pattern in the response of our state agenices in how these cases get reported to the public. You can read extensively about how the PA OAG and others like PennLive have systematically buried the failures of the state agencies in the Sandusky case at the SMSS Freehdom Fighters site. Ray Blehar and others have done a fantastic job of demonstrating how some wanted to focus on Penn State to hide the culpability of CYS and DPW in the failures of stopping Sandusky. Some did it to deflect blame, like PA Governor Tom Corbett, while others did it for web clicks, like PennLive and ESPN.
In the case of the Tutkos, we can already see the beginning of such a plan taking shape again. Notice the headline of the news report focuses on the homicide charges (Yes these parents should be charged but that isn’t the point). It isn’t until 18 paragraphs into the story that you hear anything about the warning signs that were there over the last decade. The PennLive story on September 30 attempts to place blame on NJ officials, painting the picture of neglect on NJ officials for releasing Jarrod Jr back to the Tutkos twice (again NJ officials also should have to answer for their actions in this case as well).
However what is clear is that PA child welfare agencies were well aware of the danger the Tutko children faced, again with clear warning signs, during the 2013 investigation and yet apparently (we don’t know much yet because no one is talking) did little to assure the safety of the children. Neighbors describe a peculiar family that was reclusive, a father who was violent, often hitting his children in clear view of others. They tell the tale of the older brother, Aaron, ribs visible he was so skinny, who preferred to remain out of the house at all costs.
Yet a Dauphin County CYS made a finding of no abuse on 30 December, 2013 and terminated the services to the Tutko family. You are not misreading that. In a case where untrained neighbors saw the father routinely violent with his children, professionals blew it off after claiming to be inside the house. A house that contained the room pictured below where Jarrod Jr died.
How does a state child welfare agency supposedly enter that house and not take action, save for a letter? It’s incomprehensible to even a layperson. Either that agency didn’t care for those children, or they never did a thorough investigation like they are supposed to. Both reasons are equally horrible.
The Jerry Sandusky case opened my eyes to the failures of my own state’s agencies that are tasked with protecting children. Perhaps it was an outlier, a true perfect storm, perhaps Jerry Sandusky just was that good at concealing his activities? Or perhaps there is something more going on. The case of Jarrod Tutko Jr. has shown that it is the latter in my opinion. Our state agencies need to be held accountable just like the awful people who perpetrate these crimes. We need to demand answers of our officials, otherwise what are we paying them for?
This isn’t about Penn State Football, nor NJ welfare agencies, nor Mr. and Mrs. Tutko. Like the Sandusky case people (Dr. Chambers, McQueary, Aaron Fisher) raised the red flags. Like the Sandusky case, those at CYS and DPW ignored them. The common core in all of these stories is that people who claim to want to protect children put them back in harms way even when there are obvious signs of abuse. It’s time to demand more of our professionals.