Picture a bedroom–with little to no lighting, where all of the carpet has been removed, flies thrive upon the human feces covering the room, and the door leading from this dreadfulness is locked because the knob has been purposefully reversed. Sounds like a description of a room from a horror novel, right? Unfortunately, it was where Jarrod Tutko, Jr., who at the age of nine years, diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, weighing only 16.9 pounds, and having several painful abscessed teeth, lived, and sadly died. This was his bedroom, a place where he was supposed to feel safe from the rest of the world, but instead it became his tomb, where for four days after his death, his body was left to decompose, while his parents lived just outside the door, the door they chose to lock.
Since that fateful day in July 2014 when Jarrod’s lifeless body was discovered by the authorities, the Dauphin County Children and Youth Services Office have undergone an overhaul of its policies and procedures, as well as, its staff. Additionally, Jarrod’s surviving five siblings, one of which also came very close to dying in her parents’ house, have been placed in foster care where they now receive proper care. Recently, Jarrod’s parents have pled guilty to third degree murder charges, which should result in a 40 year prison sentence.
How does Children and Youth Services (“CYS”) become involved with a family like the Tutkos? In most instances, CYS receives a telephone call either from a mandatory reporter, or a concerned citizen, that an incident of child abuse has occurred. By definition, child abuse must have an element of intent, knowledge or recklessness in order for it to be classified as abuse. Child abuse does not include such items as inadequate housing, furnishings, income, clothing or medical care, which is beyond the control of the parents. It also does not include the withholding of needed medical care because of deeply held religious beliefs, use of force by parents for discipline, supervision, control and safety, or child-on-child contact. Nor does child abuse include actions taken in self-defense, or from participating in events that involve physical contact with children.
Once an allegation of abuse is made, and deemed to fit the definition of child abuse, CYS must conduct an investigation within thirty (30) days. During this time, CYS will also assess whether the child is in need of protection based upon a risk of harm or safety. If such an assessment is made, a “plan” may be implemented in which the child is removed from contact with one or both parents, especially if one of the parents is the suspected abuser, except when the contact is under direct supervision by CYS employees.
Additionally, if a child presents to medical personnel with severe injuries indicative of child abuse, an emergency protective order may be entered, whereby, the child will physically remain within the medical facility for no less than twenty-four (24) hours, but no greater than seventy-two (72) hours.
At any time during the investigation process, the suspected abuser may receive copies of all information contained in the child abuse report, except the release of any information that would identify the person who made the initial child abuse report.
At the end of the investigation, one of three outcomes will result. First, the allegation of abuse can be designated as a “founded report,” meaning a judicial adjudication of abuse has taken place, e.g., guilty plea, finding of guilt, or finding of dependency or delinquency. Second, the allegation of abuse can be designated as an “indicated report,” meaning that CYS investigated the allegation and determined that substantial evidence of child abuse exists, as per medical reports, investigation results, or an admission by the suspected abuser. Finally, if the allegation is neither “founded” nor “indicated,” it is designated as an “unfounded report.” If a case is designated as “unfounded,” then the case is closed through CYS and no further services will be provided to the family. It is important to note that unfounded reports are maintained by CYS for a period of one year. After that period, the reports are expunged from the system.
In December 2014, the Tutko file was closed through CYS and the family was left with no services. This action led to the horrific death of Jarrod Tutko, Jr.
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.