DOYLESTOWN, Pa. - Two Pennsylvania legislators introduced a legislative package Wednesday aimed at better protecting children in the Pennsylvania child welfare system.
Reps. Craig Staats (R-Bucks) and Chris Quinn (R-Delaware) announced the introduction of the bills, which are crafted in honor of Grace Packer, a 14-year-old girl who was murdered in Bucks County by her adoptive mother and her adoptive mother’s boyfriend in 2016.
The legislative package includes three bills.
House Bill 1843 would require the implementation of the statewide child welfare case management system. Mandated by a 2014 law, the system still has not been put into use. The Commonwealth of Virginia, which like Pennsylvania has county-based child welfare agencies, has had a statewide case management system since the late 1990s.
House Bill 1844 would change the requirement to retain records in most cases from one year or 10 years to 30 years; eliminate the provision providing for expunction for a perpetrator who was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse upon that individual reaching age 23; eliminate much of the discretion the secretary of Human Services can exercise in expunging records.
House Bill 1845 would define a “valid” report in the PA Child Protective Services Law.
All three bills have been referred to the House Children and Youth Committee.
Grace Packer was adopted as a toddler by Sara Packer, a county adoption worker, and her then-husband David. As a result of frequent moves, multiple county child welfare agencies and contractors of those agencies supervised Grace’s placement or had contact with the family, Staats and Quinn said.
In July 2016, Grace was beaten and raped by Sara’s live-in boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, while Sara watched. Strangled the next day by Sullivan, Grace’s body was dismembered and dumped in Luzerne County where hunters found it months later.
Staats and Quinn were joined Wednesday by Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, whose office prosecuted Sara Packer and Jacob Sullivan. First-degree murder convictions were secured against both.
It was subsequently discovered the home was filled with relentless emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The lack of communication between county child welfare agencies impeded discovery of that abuse by authorities, according to lawmakers.
An Office of State Inspector General investigation commenced in 2019 and is still ongoing.
“Grace Packer was murdered five years ago. The child protective services system failed in its mission to protect her,” Weintraub said. “This proposed legislation is long overdue. I commend Representatives Staats and Quinn for moving forward with this legislation despite not having the report on the systemic failures that the inspector general promised us over two years ago.
“We can’t wait any longer. Our most vulnerable children are counting on us to keep them safe,” concluded Weintraub.
Quinn said, “We are resolved to work on these bills to ensure no other child in the Pennsylvania Child Welfare System is subjected to the horrors Grace Packer endured. These children need our care, concern and a system that works to protect them, and we are hopeful these bills in Grace Packer’s memory will better secure the protection they deserve.”