CLARION – “I’m most proud of saving children’s lives,” said Clarion County Director of Human Services Kay Rupert, as she looks back on her 28 years and looks forward to her Feb. 2 retirement.
Serving in many capacities after joining Clarion County in 1990, Rupert’s work with Children and Youth Services (CYS) leaves Clarion County with one of the most reputable CYS agencies in Pennsylvania.
“I think we’ve worked hard to build a network of services and support for families, and we’ve done our best to treat families with respect and help them to do what they can and what they’re able to do to improve the lives of their children,” continued Rupert.
Her goal in high school was to become a mathematics teacher, but she earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees in special education from Clarion University.
“When I look back, I truly believe it is what God planned for me,” Rupert said. “My goal in high school was to go to college and major in mathematics. There were situations and circumstances that were certainly not planned by me that I truly believe were the direction God planned for me. I worked hard to fulfill my part.”
She worked as a special education teacher after graduation and continued working until she was eight months pregnant with her first son. When she was ready to re-enter the job market, she found she had priced herself out of the job market with a master’s degree and five years of experience.
Instead of teaching, Rupert joined Venango County Head Start as a special needs coordinator. She next moved on to Mental Health (MH) in Venango County and crisis services until becoming supervisor of the base service unit in MH.
“In 1990 I came here to Clarion County in Mental Health as the in-school therapist for children in emotional support classes and was also a therapist at the clinic when the counseling center was still in this building [Human Services Building/old hospital],” Rupert said. “During the following year, I became coordinator and supervisor of all MH services, including the counseling center and all of the MH children services. I took the job of CYS in June 1994 and in 1996 agreed to take the position of director of human relations as well as human services.”
Later, Scott Keefer took over the HR component as well as county financial operations.
CYS and Human Services went through major changes in the 1990s.
“CYS had been under the courts,” Rupert says. “Judge Alexander had supervised the agency so it really was an arm of the court and they focused on what was in the Child Protective Services Law and Juvenile Act.
“The commissioners and judge interviewed me and we really had to redo the human services piece of CYS here in the county because there were very few prevention services and it wasn’t really being done.”
Rebuilding relationships and prevention services in the community to try and serve the kids and families who were at risk was priority of the reorganization.
“The numbers of the children and families needing services increased because of the combination of having those prevention services available and because some of those don’t come into the CYS system,” she said. “The needs have significantly increased — poverty levels, drug use, have significantly impacted the ability to meet the needs of the kids.”
The changes have been partially a function of the economy, but Rupert also mentions a large number of young parents.
“The parents are struggling to meet their own needs, much less meet the needs of their kids. We can offer services to assist them with that. The influx of drugs has certainly had a major impact on the numbers and types of families we are serving and all human services, both public and private. Between the private agencies and the churches, in addition to the county services, there is a real challenge.”
The main mission of CYS is to provide parents with services they need so they can safely keep their kids in the home whenever possible. If that’s not possible, there’s a process in place between the medical community, law enforcement and the courts to ensure their safety.
There is a statewide risk assessment standard and if a child is at a high risk, CYS needs to see the child at least once a week in the home to assure their safety.
“The state regulations say if they are not at high risk, we need to see them at least once a month. Historically, Clarion has seen kids more often than the state minimum requirements. The minimum ongoing, once the family has been accepted, is twice a month. We have had high-risk cases where caseworkers have been there seven days a week. If that’s what it needs to be, that’s what it needs to be. It’s all done on a case-by-case basis. We’re always more stringent than the state minimum requirements.”
If a child needs to be placed in a foster home, CYS has developed a network of homes in the county.
“Rebecca McGuire has done a phenomenal job recruiting foster families,” Rupert said. “That’s an ever-changing population because, with the exception of a few, whenever we have a child who was not able to return home the foster parent who was caring for the child adopts them. The foster family homes fill up and new ones are needed. Rebecca has worked really hard to have foster homes available in every school district in the county. If a child does have to come into foster care, they don’t lose their connections and they are able to stay in their school unless a determination that a change in school would be best for a child. The majority of kids stay in their own school.”
CYS staff currently includes 22 members, including eight field caseworkers, one social services aide, three specialty caseworkers, three supervisors, two program specialists, an administrator and deputy administrator and clerical employees.
Clarion County Human Service programs are all Civil Service positions. Civil Service sets the standards for the minimum requirements and does the testing and everything else.
“It is sometimes hard to hire off of the Civil Service list and that’s the reason that Children and Youth has entered into a contract with Justice Inc. because of the vacancies we have had for the ongoing services and the need to have a fully staffed department,” said Rupert.
Rupert is thankful for the commissioners allowing a lengthy transition process, allowing a smoother change in leadership in an agency that has many governing laws and regulations.
She feels like she is leaving the county in good hands.
“There are very few people who enter the human services field that don’t have a desire to help,” says Rupert. “The reason we get up and come to work is to serve. As long as that is the primary focus, everyone will continue to do that and the residents of Clarion County will get the best that we have to offer.”