100 WVIA Way
Pittston, PA 18640

Phone: 570-826-6144
Fax: 570-655-1180

Copyright © 2024 WVIA, all rights reserved. WVIA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lackawanna County scraps Health Department, develops new program to help families, OYFS

Lackawanna County Commissioners Bill Gaughan and Matt McGloin announce the creation of the Family First Community Pathways program.
Sarah Hofius Hall
Lackawanna County Commissioners Bill Gaughan and Matt McGloin announce the creation of the Family First Community Pathways program.

Lackawanna County will no longer create a state-certified Department of Health and instead direct resources to a new program to help families and address the understaffed and troubled Office of Youth and Family Services.

The Family First Community Pathways program will focus on helping vulnerable families so they do not end up in the child welfare system, Commissioners Bill Gaughan and Matt McGloin announced Thursday. The program will employ community-based providers to assist with housing, nutrition, health care, violence prevention, child maltreatment, maternal and infant health and safety. OYFS would only become involved if the efforts to help the families prove to be inadequate.

The program would be the first of its kind in the state, and the administration of Gov. Josh Shapiro has expressed its support, the commissioners said. The county submitted its official proposal to the state on Thursday.

“We have problems in the community. We have problems as a society with our children and our families,” Gaughan said. “So we really wanted to put our heads together with the team that we have here to figure out, is there a different way that we can address this instead of just kind of plodding along and trying to get the license back?”

The state Department of Human Services placed the OYFS on a provisional license a year ago due to a major backlog of referrals and related issues.

In June 2023, the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against five caseworkers and supervisors, charging that they had failed to protect children in three Scranton families. A Lackawanna County judge dismissed those charges, and the district attorney has appealed that decision.

The office remains understaffed, with 50 vacant positions. Since January, the referral backlog has gone from 900 to about 700.

The state Department of Human Services has approved the office’s plan to increase overtime, use other county staff and enlist help from other counties. While the county creates the new Pathways program, the office will continue to work on the backlog.

County leaders believe that offering support and connecting families with community resources, social service agencies and other groups will help reduce cases for the department and ultimately help children and their parents.

“We are eager to get started on this innovative, groundbreaking, community-based, public health approach to better serving our kids and our families,” McGloin said.

Health Department

As the COVID-19 pandemic surged in 2020, the county took the first steps toward creating a Department of Health. County leaders had thought the state would reimburse the county for 80% of operating costs, but the new administration learned otherwise.

After taking office in January, Gaughan and McGloin hired the Scranton law firm Myers, Brier & Kelly to determine the financial impact. The law firm found the state may reimburse the county a maximum of $6 per county resident, or $1.3 million. That’s about 27% of the projected $4.7 million budget for the health department.

In preparing for the department, the county secured a location and began to hire staff. The county used $4 million in state American Rescue Plan funds and additional $1 million in county funds to purchase the former PennFED Credit Union Building at 315 Franklin Ave. The county has spent about $1.8 million on renovations and will continue to use it for other purposes, commissioners said.

The 26 employees already hired for the department will be laid off and paid through the next pay period. Those employees can pursue positions with the new Pathways program, commissioners said.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org