Glen Mills Schools

Glen Mills Schools campus.

Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order Wednesday aimed at overhauling the way the state provides services to its most vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly. The move comes in the wake of allegations of decades of abuse and cover-ups at the Glen Mills School in Delaware County.

“Today is the beginning of a process to acknowledge Pennsylvania, over the past few decades, has failed to maintain our systems to protect and help our most vulnerable residents, and that must change,” Wolf said at a press conference. “We’ve heard and seen the horror stories. Many stem from a government too eager to serve the needs of institutions and too reluctant to serve the needs of people. I am taking executive action to make changes that will stop the system from failing Pennsylvanians most in need of our protection and care.”

The “Protection of Vulnerable Populations” executive order establishes two new entities: The Office of Advocacy and Reform and a Council on Reform. The former includes a new Child Advocate position in the governor’s office, while the latter is made up of 25 voting members appointed by Wolf to gain perspectives from various stakeholders on how to improve on delivering services safely.

“I want to be clear that I am not disparaging the hardworking and, frankly, underpaid and underappreciated workers within this system,” Wolf said. “This is not their fault and the failures are not of their making. But we’ve had a series of incidents in our commonwealth that have revealed inadequacies in the system’s ability to protect and uplift Pennsylvanians in vulnerable situations.”

Delaware County’s own Glen Mills School came under serious scrutiny following a Philadelphia Inquirer report in February that alleged students there suffered decades of abuse at the hands of employees.

In the months since, the 193-year-old institution has seen the departure of Executive Director Randy Ireson, as well as all of its students under an emergency order from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

The Department also revoked all 14 of the school’s licenses, and it faces investigations from Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General, as well as two federal class-action lawsuits.

Glen Mills announced last month that it is under the new management of Acting Executive Director Chris Spriggs and Board President Carolyn Seagraves, who are currently focused on retooling every aspect of the program to bring the school back online with a different atmosphere and culture.

“The Glen Mills Schools supports the executive order signed today by Gov. Wolf and looks forward to cooperating fully with the new Office of Advocacy and Reform,” said Mike Neilon, a spokesperson for the school. “At the same time we will continue to also cooperate with all state and local entities currently conducting independent reviews, including those under the direction of Pennsylvania’s Auditor General and Inspector General, as well as the one being undertaken by our external independent review panel. Our plan is to implement reforms that provide the highest level of accountability and transparency at The Glen Mills Schools so that we can once again serve some of Pennsylvania’s and other states’ most vulnerable youth.”

Representatives from the Juvenile Law Center and Education Law Center – which filed one of the class-action lawsuits against Glen Mills – also applauded the executive order in a statement and said they were dedicated to supporting the Office of Advocacy and Reform and Council on Reform “to ensure meaningful systemic transformation.”

“For too long, children and youth in residential placements have been subject to abuse, neglect, and denied a real education,” said Maura McInerney, legal director at the Education Law Center. “We applaud the governor’s action today and urge the newly formed Council on Reform to address both the safety and the well-being of these children – including their right to a quality education.”

Wolf said the Council on Reform held its first meeting immediately following his announcement and is expected to report its findings by Nov. 1.

Wolf has also called on state agencies to take up a number of reforms, including reducing institutionalization for children and adults in an effort to transition to home-based and community-based services; using data and analysis to identify high-risk providers for additional oversight; and implementing a statewide child welfare case management IT system.

“In addition to the executive order I signed today and the steps by my administration, I will pursue extensive regulatory and legislative actions with input from the General Assembly,” Wolf said. “I look forward to working collaboratively with our legislators, many of whom have worked hard to advance these important issues, and to making announcements on progress with these actions in the coming months.”

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