Five county workers charged with child neglect
Multiple children in Lackawanna County were not only neglected by their families but also those assigned to protect them, according to details in multiple criminal complaints filed by the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Mark Powell charged five case workers from the Office of Youth and Family Services (OYFS) with endangering the welfare of children and failure to report or refer cases of suspected child abuse. They are Randy Ramik, 59, of Clarks Green; Bryan Scott Walker, 51, of Eynon; Erik Krauser, 45, of Dickson City; and Sadie O’Day, 34, and Amy Helcoski, 50, both of Scranton.
The children under the caseworkers' care are now between the ages of 2 and 13. They are from three different families involved with the county’s OYFS for more than 10 years. They endured various levels of abuse, according to criminal complaints. Some lived in now-condemned properties in deplorable conditions with multiple pets who were also not cared for.
In the court documents, officers say family, community members and neighbors reached out to officials for help. Yet, the cases persisted. An incident in one criminal complaints says the mother of two children repeatedly told caseworkers: “I need help.” The case workers denied multiple referrals from outside organizations, according to the criminal complaints. Powell alleges they falsified reports.
Officers were issued search warrants for the OYFS to investigate the neglect.
Lackawanna County would not comment on the arrests Tuesday.
However, on Friday, the child protection agency's license was downgraded from full to provisional for a six-month period by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, according to an email from the county.
William Browning, the county’s Director of Health & Human Services, responding to the license downgrade, said the department deals with over 9,000 cases annually. They have 40 open staff positions. He said the issue is systemic statewide.
The department will continue its plan of corrections to the best of its abilities, said Browning. They will meet with state personnel until the license is fully restored.
Powell’s office has been investigating the agency for the past year. The D.A. said the children in these cases didn’t fall through the cracks because the OYFS was understaffed. The cases were on the agency’s radar for a long time and the caseworkers responded many times, Powell said.
In one case involving Ramik, Walker and Krauser, multiple reports were issued between 2015 and 2016 that the children’s needs were not being met. Their mother was charged twice with endangering the welfare of children.
However, referrals continued to be invalidated by OYFS, according to police documents.
The children's mother died in their home in October 2022. When police arrived, they reported the an "overwhelming, strong, horrific odor." There were no clean items to meet basic needs like clothing, blankets or bedding. The three children were filthy. The Refrigerator and stove had spoiled, rotten food.
Scranton Police notified the OYFS about the situation and learned that the family already had a case open with the agency.
The investigation into the Office of Youth and Family Services is ongoing. Anyone with information should contact the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office at 570-963-6717 or Scranton Police at 570-348-4130.
If you or someone you know suspects child abuse or neglect, contact the ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. Caseworkers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.