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Agency History

The Lehigh County Office of Children and Youth Services was established on July 1, 1962, by the Lehigh County Commissioners as a result of Act 414 of August 7, 1961, of the Pennsylvania Legislature, which Act amended the Institution District Act so as to define the responsibility of the countries to include services to dependent and delinquent children.   From 1962 until 1978, the Agency’s name was Lehigh County Children’s Bureau.   From the very beginning until present day the Agency’s primary function is to provide protective services to children who are neglected, abused or dependent as defined by State laws and Department of Public Welfare regulations.   During the first six months of the agency’s life, Mrs. Charlotte Ritter, was the only staff member.   She processed 103 referrals involving 271 children during that first six-month period; 73 of these families were accepted for on-going protective services.

In 1963 a caseworker and an office secretary were added to the staff and an Advisory Committee, consisting of nine members, was appointed.

In 1964 another caseworker was added to the staff and groundwork was laid for entering into purchase of service agreements with Family and Children’s Service, Catholic Social Agency and Lutheran Children’s Bureau.   The Advisory Committee membership was expanded to 15.   Several undergraduate students did field placements with the Agency, a practice that has continued to this day.

In 1965 the Agency moved from the Old Courthouse into quarters in the new Courthouse.   A temporary emergency foster home was approved and eight children were served by it.   The purchase of service agreements went into effect in February, with the agencies noted above.   No new staff positions were created, although the workload increased dramatically.

During 1966 casework staff increased from three to seven, and the clerical staff increased from one to two.   A commercial answering service was purchased to provide more effective 24-hour coverage for emergencies.

During 1967 the first casework supervisor and clerk typist were added to the staff.

During 1968 the Agency was provided services of an assistant county solicitor to handle all legal matters.   The Agency also retained the services of a psychiatric consultant to help staff better understand clients’ emotional problems.   Other highlights included developing family care under Agency auspices and signing a purchase of service agreement with a day-care center.  

The agency also recruited and approved 11 of its own foster homes, thus beginning to provide direct foster care service as well as continuing to purchase the bulk of it.   A second emergency foster home was recruited and supervised by the Agency.   Advisory Committee membership was increased from 15 to 21 members.

The 1969 Annual Report notes that the budget for the year was $1 million as compared to $100,000 during the first year of operation.   The report further notes that initially the only function of the Agency was protective services, whereas of 1968 nine other services are provided.   In addition, in the first years of the Agency’s existence, other child welfare needs were being met and paid for by the County Authorities, though the expenditures were not reflected in the Child Welfare Budget.   As of 1969, the Annual Budget includes the cost of all public child welfare services to dependent children provided throughout the County.   During this year, a social worker and caseworker were added to the staff, bringing the professional staff complement to 14.

In 1971, a second supervisor, additional clerk typist and a part-time aide were added to the staff, bringing the total staff complement to 22.

In September of 1972, Mrs. Ritter, after 10 years as Director, retired from her position.   Under her leadership the Agency developed all types of services, having started exclusively with protective service.   The staff expanded from one worker plus a fiscal person to 23 employees.   Services in the first year were provided to 271 children; in the 10 th year, services were provided to 3,544 children, many of who were referred to other agencies or information had simply been provided to the parents about other community services.   At the end of 1972, 710 children were being serviced in their own homes; the bulk of the services were protective service.   There were 403 dependent children in placement; 281 in foster homes, 23 in adoptive homes, and 104 in institutions.

George Yoder was appointed to succeed Charlotte Ritter as Director.   In the ten years, he provided leadership to the organization, the staff complement doubled.   The development and expansion of the child abuse program has been evident throughout these past years, which reflects an increased interest and attention to the problem throughout the state and nation.   During the 1980’s, increasing attention has been paid to juveniles who are at odds with their parents and society, as well as toward attempting to develop an improved accountability system for services provided.   Significant developments year by year are noted below.

Toward the end of 1972 an ad hoc steering committee representing community agencies began planning for the development of a community-wide child abuse treatment program.   This community committee continued to function and plan until 1974, when the Department of Public Welfare funded a special Demonstration Program in Lehigh and Northampton Counties for child abuse services.   In 1975, a new child abuse law was passed in Pennsylvania which further encouraged and mandated that counties develop the child abuse services to greater extent than in the past. Between 1972, and 1978, the child abuse services expanded from one caseworker carrying approximately 15 families to two supervisors and seven caseworkers providing services to several hundred families where there were indications of neglect or abuse.

In 1972, a separate intake unit for all intakes was set up by promoting an intake worker to a working supervisory position and adding an additional worker to the staff.   Also in 1973, the Agency was provided its own solicitor, who was available at all times for dependency cases.   Through the efforts of the agency’s solicitors and the administrative staff, relationships with the Courts and training of all workers to process cases in Court improved from previous years.

In 1974, the professional and clerical staff below the supervisory level unionized and negotiated its first contract with the County.   In 1974, there was a significant decrease in the number of children in institutions at the end of the year compared to the end of the previous year.   This decreasing trend continued through 1975 and 1976, where institutional placements leveled off.   In the six-year period of 1972 to 1977, institutional placement cases at the end of the year decreased form 108 to 46.

In 1975, the Agency began a push for increased accountability of workers and supervisors.   Efforts were made to use the evaluation process as a way of helping workers identify weaknesses and find ways to improve skills and performance.   In 1975, the position of Director of Social Services was created to provide an administrator who would have the primary responsibility for the internal operations of the Agency, relieving the Executive Director of that responsibility.

During 1976, the Agency’s day-care homes and program were turned over to the private day-care agency responsible for administering the Title XX day-care program in the Lehigh Valley.   The Agency has been purchasing day-care services since.   The Agency employed its first two caseworkers under the CETA program as a way of expanding staff to meet growing needs.

During 1977, the Agency director and key Agency staff participated in planning meetings for the development of a Human Services Department of which the Agency would become a part under the new form of County government to be instituted in 1978.   The Agency also cooperated with the Office of Youth Systems Development, which was a specially funded project under bi-county auspices; to determine youth needs in Lehigh and Northampton Counties.   The Agency also expanded its quarters during 1977, and new account structure developed by the Department of Public Welfare was instituted.

During 1978, the Agency functioned as an Office of Human Services Department under the Home Rule of county government.   It took the name “Office of Children and Youth Services” which reflects the designation used by the State for such operations and more accurately reflects the trend for the Agency to take over and provide or attempt to provide services to truants, runaways and ungovernable children.   New Department of Public Welfare regulations following Act 148, which was an amendment to the Public Welfare Code, were instituted and implemented as of January 1, 1978.   This involved a more sophisticated planning process as well as a more detailed annual plan and budget including public hearings in which the plan was presented for comment by the citizenry.

In April 1981, the Agency moved from the courthouse annex to 1037 Airport Road.   The Agency was in the midst of internal change at this time as well.   With additional impetus provided by funding through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Agency continued a trend of providing in-home services to youth normally considered appropriate for placement apart from the natural parents.   This group of youth, primarily status offenders, has benefited from this new intervention concept by showing lower incidence of negative behaviors.   The County has also benefited from this treatment concept, which has proven to be significantly more cost effective.   The number of children in structured placements, often costing as much as $70 per day, has been dramatically reduced.

During 1982, the Agency followed through on recommendations of the Task Force on Youth with the development, implementation and evaluation of a group parent education program.   From the program beginnings in early spring 1982, through the end of the following year, over 500 parents would benefit from participation in a twenty-one hour course based on the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting model.

In 1982, George Yoder retired as Executive Director following over a decade in that role.   In early fall, the leading role was assumed by Ms. Andrea Guy, who brought with her an extensive background in varying fields of public and private social services.   Also during 1983, the Agency organizational structure was modified to place greater emphasis on case management and the utilization of direct service resources.

Since that time the agency staff again increased as well as the number of clients and the complexity of cases.   In-home services continue to be refined.   New models of intervention are utilized when placement of children apart from their natural family is required, to reduce the length of placement.   Instead of prolonged foster care, adoption of children is pursued when indicated.   Evaluation of the impact of on-going service programs in order to maximize the impact of diminishing resources continues to be the administrative focus.

In 1987, the Intake Screening unit came into full existence.   A few caseworkers were assigned to deal with all referrals, closing those cases, which required only information, and forwarding to the Intake units any cases in which further services were needed.   Because of budget and personnel crunches, a number of types of cases formerly accepted for service were discontinued (truancy in particular).   Agreements with other Human Service Offices and the Juvenile Probation Office were finalized and put into effect to allow each Office to provide maximum service to clients by utilizing services available through other offices.

In May 1988, David C. Ungerer was appointed as Executive Director following the resignation of Andrea Guy in January 1988.   Under his leadership the agency staff size increased from 57 to 73.   This increase represented eight new OCYS staff positions that reflected the creation of an additional CPS on-going services unit composed of a supervisor and four caseworkers, the planner/program specialist and two clerical workers.   The other eight positions reflected the Children’s Mental Health Unit co-located at the Agency.   The infusion of the Mental Health unit was in response to the departmental plan to provide age-based case management services to its clients.

As the staff size increased, so did the need for additional space.   Consequently, the agency secured the first floor of the building adjacent to the main office to house several administrative staff members and fiscal personnel. The expansion to the second floor of this annex followed to alleviate cramped quarters.

In June 1990, in response to the State requirement to adopt a risk assessment model the agency began utilizing the Philadelphia risk assessment model to ensure the safety and well being of a child as the primary client and preserve their family.   A risk assessment is a systematic, comprehensive ecological approach to the assessment of a family functioning with regard to specific physical; behavioral, psychological and environmental factors, which have been determined to correlate with child abuse and neglect.   Risk assessments are completed by caseworkers to determine the degree of risk to children entering the system and at various intervals for those being serviced by the system.

The agency’s first Needs Based Plan and Budget was developed and submitted in August 1990, for the State fiscal year 1991/1992 following an agreement among the Commonwealth, City of Philadelphia, Allegheny County, the Pennsylvania State Association of County Commissioners and the Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.   This new planning and budget process represented for the first time in history of the agency the possibility of addressing critical resource needs of the system.

In spring 1991, several advisory committee members created the “Fund to Benefit Children and Youth”.   This tax-free, 501(C)3 entity which is separate from the Advisory Committee and the Agency, was established to collect and disburse funds to meet the needs of children not presently addressed by existing agencies or governmental organizations.   Projections of revenue for this fund for 1992 were approximately $100,000.

In winter 1997, the agency moved to its present location in the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street.

Pamela J. Buehrle, M.S.S. became the Director following David Ungerer’s resignation in September 2000.   Under Pamela’s leadership, restructuring of the agency began in a geographical-team approach to better meet the needs of Lehigh County children and their families within their respective communities.

In April 2001, County Executive Jane R. Ervin formed the OCYS Success Team to review the agency and to evaluate the functioning of Lehigh County Office of Children & Youth.   This team made its first set of recommendations on September 14, 2001, in accordance with their evaluation.   They will continue reviewing and evaluating the agency in order to make further recommendations on behalf of the agency.   All success team meetings are open to the public.

In 2002 the agency compliment continued to grow and caseworkers were outstationed at Northern Lehigh School District and later Allentown elementary schools.   A second shift unit was added to focus on meeting with children and families during non-traditional hours.

In 2003 the agency compliment grew to 138 with a caseworker outstationed at Whitehall-Coplay Middle School and a second CPS intake unit created in order to meet the needs of the increasing number of child abuse referrals and move the completion of all of the child investigations to the CPS intake units.