Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Could red flags have saved Grace Packer?

Child welfare investigators concluded that she either knew, or should have known, that the girls — one a foster child, one adopted — were being abused by David Packer. He was convicted in 2011.

Sara Packer was fired from her Northampton County adoption-services job and was barred from fostering any more children, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

However, the adopted daughter, Grace, and her younger brother remained with Packer.

There is no simple answer.

Because records relating to minors are private, it is not possible to trace every step of the Packer family's journey through the child-welfare systems of multiple counties. Officials in the counties that dealt with the Packers would not comment or did not return calls from the Inquirer last week.

What is known, though, reveals a state system that allowed Sara Packer to continue in the role of parent even while listed in the child-abuse database.

A report of "indicated" child abuse was filed against her because of her husband's case, Packer's attorney, Keith J. Williams, told the Bucks County Courier Times last week. The child welfare investigation found she had committed child abuse by omission — either not noticing or not stopping the abuse — under state child-protection laws, he said. (Reached Friday by the Inquirer, Williams said he could not comment.)

Packer told authorities at the time of her husband's criminal case that she was unaware that he had abused Grace and a foster daughter, and that she had found out about sexual contact between David Packer and the foster daughter only after the girl turned 18, according to Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin.

Perpetrators of child abuse deemed "founded" are barred from working or volunteering with minors. But entering the child abuse database on an "indicated" report, as Packer did, holds no legal significance, and does not start an investigation into a person's parental rights. Such registrants are not forbidden from working with children, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Nonetheless, most organizations still do not hire them, said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, based in Bernville, Berks County.

Packer's entry into the registry "doesn't mean — and the law doesn't require it to mean — that [county child welfare agencies] have to go before the court and say: 'Should we reassess? ...Should there be any change in her ability to parent kids in her home?' " Palm said.

“When you remove children from their biological families, we’ve just got to do a better job as a country making sure that we put these children in safe places.”