State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

DHS: Welfare officers missed red flags in Grace Packer's brutal murder

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 1, 2019 10:16 PM

Sara Packer and Jacob Sullivan after their arrests. (Photo by AP)


(Harrisburg) -- In 2016, a Pennsylvania teenager was raped, tortured, murdered and dismembered by her adoptive mother's boyfriend--attacks the mother helped plan.

Now, a report on the case from the commonwealth's Human Services Department has found that investigators missed signs of abuse for years.

The report is out following sentencing of Jacob Sullivan and Sara Packer to death and life in prison, respectively, for killing Packer's 14-year-old daughter Grace, whom she adopted in 2007.

Over those years, Packer and Grace encountered child welfare systems in multiple Pennsylvania counties--and North Carolina--many times.

But Grace stayed with her adoptive mother.

The heavily-redacted report from DHS and county officials says, among other things, the full histories children have with welfare officials often aren't shared across counties and states.

It also says records expungement laws are too strict, and hinder information sharing.

It recommends updating those laws. And it also says officials should do a better job following up on cases in which there have been multiple reports of possible abuse, but cause hasn't been found to remove a child from a home.

It also fundamentally, caseworkers are overburdened and turnover rates are too high, and that can lead to mistakes.

The current ratio of workers to cases is 1:30. The report called that "outdated," and said DHS is drafting updates that would cut it down to, at maximum, 1:10.

Grace Packer's biological parents, who live in Reading, lost custody of Grace and her two siblings years ago amid allegations that other adults were abusing the children. 

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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