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Friday, January 13, 2017
Murder suspect Sara Packer's employment as child welfare worker terminated over 'misconduct'
Posted: Jan. 10, 2017
The termination letter sent to the mother accused of participating in the “rape-murder fantasy” killing of her teen daughter provides some answers — and raises new questions — about why she was fired as a child welfare worker.
Sara Packer was suspended without pay over allegations of “misconduct," according to a copy of the 2010 termination letter from the Northampton County Children, Youth and Families Division. The letter states she was terminated as an adoption supervisor four months after she was suspended for violating part of the state’s child protective services law that covers contact with children.
Specifics about the alleged misconduct remain a mystery.
Packer, 41, was arrested Sunday for allegedly planning and participating with boyfriend Jacob Sullivan, 44, in the July 8 death of her daughter, Grace Packer, 14. The charges against the pair include homicide, conspiracy, kidnapping and abuse of a corpse for the later dismemberment of the body. Sullivan also is charged with raping Grace while her mother allegedly watched.
Northampton County redacted portions of the April 15 termination letter, which was obtained by this news organization along with other portions of Packer’s county personnel file through a Right to Know request.
The information confirms Packer worked at the child welfare agency for seven years until she was suspended Jan. 20, 2010. She was hired in January 2003 as a caseworker and promoted to a supervisory position in January 2008, according to the records. As an adoption supervisor, she oversaw five full-time caseworkers who were responsible for a wide-range of permanency services to children and families.
Action on additional employment information that was sought as part of the Right to Know request is pending.
Northampton County Solicitor Daniel O’Donnell denied the newspaper access to the redacted information in the letter, in part, because of “references to state agency investigations which are not subject to public disclosure,” according to the county’s response. He didn't respond to followup questions seeking clarification.
The termination letter stated that Packer provided the county’s child welfare agency director with information, and “based on the seriousness of these allegations of misconduct,” she was suspended pending a complete investigation. The letter also states Packer provided the agency with unidentified "documents."
According to the letter, the county deemed Packer’s termination “appropriate” because she violated the county agency’s policy and procedures code and the county’s code of ethics and discipline, as based on a section of the state’s Child Protective Services Law related to “employees having contact with children; adoptive and foster parents, and a certification from the department as to whether the applicant is named in the statewide database as the alleged perpetrator in a pending child abuse investigation or as the perpetrator of a founded report or an indicated report.”
Pennsylvania requires individuals who work directly with children — or volunteer directly with them — to undergo a child abuse clearance check. It's unclear if Northampton County required followup clearance checks for employees in 2010.
Pennsylvania employers and organizations are barred from hiring individuals or using volunteers for positions that involve direct unsupervised contact with children if the person was named as a perpetrator in a proven child abuse report within the previous five years. The same prohibition would apply to applicants for foster or adoptive parents, according to Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children’s Justice, a Berks County child advocacy center.
The five-year ban doesn't apply if the abuse report is indicated though many employers and agencies have policies in place barring them because of liability concerns, Palm added.
An indicated report occurs when a county child welfare agency investigation determines substantial evidence of alleged abuse exists but does not rise to the level of a crime.
Five months after Sara Packer was terminated from her job, then-husband David W. Packer — Grace’s adoptive father — was accused of sexually assaulting an unidentified 9-year-old girl from 2006 until 2010. Two months later, police in Allentown, where the couple lived, filed additional sex crimes charges against David Packer after an 18-year-old woman claimed he assaulted her when she was 15, according to published news accounts.
The following year, David Packer pleaded guilty in both cases and he was sentenced to six months to three years in one case and one to five years in the other case. He was paroled in 2016 and required to register as a sexually violent predator under Megan’s Law, according to court documents. His last known address was in Northampton County, where civil records show he filed for divorce against Sara Packer in June 2016 and was granted a no-fault divorce two months later.
This news organization has been unsuccessful in reaching the Allentown Police Department’s media relations officer, Capt. Tony Alsleben, for comment about that case.
It was unclear Tuesday if Sara and David Packer were foster parents to children other than Grace and her younger brother, whom they adopted in 2004.
Northampton County has no record of foster care payments to Packer, county Controller Stephen Barron Jr. confirmed. This news organization has filed Right to Know requests with child welfare agencies in Berks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties seeking records for any payments Packer may have received for foster care services. Montgomery County Children and Youth officials Tuesday confirmed that agency has no record of involvement with Grace Packer.
In 2015, Pennsylvania processed 1,518,957 child abuse background check applications, and fewer than 1 percent – 2,224 – did not receive a cleared Child Abuse History certification.
Among that number of rejected applicants – 1,828 were named as a perpetrator in a child abuse report, 373 were identified as an alleged perpetrator in a child abuse report that was pending an investigation and 23 were named as alleged perpetrators in a child abuse report where the outcome was pending in criminal or juvenile court, according to the state’s annual child protective services report.
Among the applicants named as a perpetrator of child abuse, 10 were identified as prohibited from hire or selection because they were named as found perpetrators of child abuse within the five years prior to the processing of their child abuse clearance application, according to the report.