Advocates call for state child welfare office to be established by law

Zack Hoopes, •
Bree Hood speaking in Harrisburg for OCA

Advocates for child welfare reform rallied in the Capitol Monday to urge the legislature to establish a permanent child advocacy office that is not subject to the whim of a governor.

The commonwealth’s child advocate currently exists only by executive order of the governor; having the office established under law by the legislature would be “enabling it to operate continually throughout the changes in administrations,” said Rep. Christina Sappey, D-Chester County, the sponsor of a bill to do so.

The position of Child Advocate was created in 2019 as part of the Office of Advocacy and Reform, under an executive order issued by former Gov. Tom Wolf. Maryann McEvoy currently serves as both Child Advocate and the office’s executive director.

The Office of Advocacy and Reform had a staff of about nine people working on child welfare under Wolf, McEvoy said Monday, and Gov. Josh Shapiro has pledged a similar effort under his administration.

But the fact that the agency is an arm of the governor’s office means it could go away with the stroke of a pen, advocates said, and the state needs an independent office to exist statutorily in order to ensure consistency over time.

Establishing the office as a statutory entity would be a big step toward making it “a priority for our children to be seen, to be heard, and to be protected,” McEvoy said at Monday’s rally, which also highlighted Child Abuse Prevention Month.

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About the Expert

Katy Otto joined Juvenile Law Center in 2016. With a background in communications, development and government relations, she is responsible for the organization’s overall messaging strategy and implementation. She is passionate about youth justice, and committed to ensuring that the public learns about the challenges facing youth in the child welfare and justice systems.

Malik Pickett is a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center who joined the organization in 2020. He advocates for the rights of youth in the juvenile justice system through litigation, amicus and policy advocacy efforts. Prior to joining Juvenile Law Center, Pickett worked as an associate attorney with the law firm of Wade Clark Mulcahy, LLP where he litigated personal injury and construction defect cases and as a legislative counsel for the Honorable Pennsylvania State Senators Shirley M. Kitchen and Jay Costa.