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.

Wolf issues executive order aimed at improving Pa's 'outdated' human services

Written by Katie Meyer | Aug 1, 2019 6:33 AM
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference at the John H. Taggart School library, Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Philadelphia. Wolf discussed his infrastructure package, Restore Pennsylvania, to help remediate contaminants from Pennsylvania schools. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(Harrisburg) -- After a series of incidents in which people have been harmed while in state or county human services care, Governor Tom Wolf says the system isn't working.

He issued an executive order Wednesday that--among other things--aims to figure out what's going wrong.

Explaining his decision, Wolf pointed to a reform school for boys that was shut down after a journalist uncovered ongoing abuse.

There have been reports of elderly people being harmed in nursing homes. And in 2016, a 14-year-old girl was brutally murdered by her foster parents, after caseworkers overlooked signs of abuse.

"Today we're being honest that the decades-in-the-making, outdated, rigid, convoluted system is not working for too many Pennsylvanians," Wolf said.

The order will create a new Office of Advocacy and Reform within the governor's office, and a council on reform.

They'll be tasked with studying best practices for vulnerable people, coordinating with counties, and recommending changes.

"For too long," Wolf said, "we have viewed the role of the state as one of just administration and oversight, and our systems have been built to prioritize the institution over the human being."

Many of Pennsylvania's human services functions are carried out by counties. Wolf noted, he can't force them to change anything. But the Association of County Commissioners has indicated it's on board. 

Wolf will appoint an executive director for his new advocacy office, plus a child advocate.

He'll also appoint members to the reform council, which will include department heads as well.

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