The foster care agency came under scrutiny after Sara Packer, 42, and her boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, 44, were arrested in January and charged with killing the Packers' 14-year-old adopted daughter, Grace, in July in a rape-murder fantasy. Police allege they stored Grace's body for months in their rented Richland Township home before dismembering it and dumping it in Carbon County, court records say. Sarah Packer, who police say watched as Grace was raped and killed, has pleaded not guilty. Sullivan, who police say raped and strangled the child, has not entered a plea. Both are awaiting trial.
Also the weak prison sentences for abuse and unknown resources to treat this illness seems to be another area of weakness.
In the Grace Packer story there were previous offences but Grace and her brother were not removed from the home.
After leaving Impact, Sara Packer went to work for Northampton County in 2003 as an adoption caseworker. She became a supervisor in 2007 but was dismissed in 2010, county records show, when David Packer was investigated for sexually abusing Grace and an older foster daughter in the couple's Allentown home. David Packer ultimately pleaded guilty and served about five years in prison. He and Sara Packer divorced last year.
Among the revelations since Grace's death is that Sara Packer was working for Impact while she was getting foster children through the agency — which is contrary to industry best practices. The review referred to that history, but also noted that no current employees have foster children through Impact, and that Impact's handbook "does not condone the use of current employees as foster parents for the agency."*****
Instead of removing the child from the home, the child was left there despite the horror of her situation:
Child welfare experts raised several questions about the tragic path that led to Grace's death, including how, after David Packer's conviction, Sara Packer was able to retain custody of Grace and her younger brother, both of whom the Packers adopted in 2007. Some wondered whether Sara Packer's familiarity with the child welfare system helped her escape scrutiny.
The child apparently died in the presence of Sara Parker!!!
In his alleged confession, Sullivan admitted raping Grace Packer while Sara Packer watched. Police say Sullivan also admitted squeezing the life out of Grace in a stifling hot Richland Township attic, where prosecutors say the couple left Grace to die.
Prosecutors allege that the crime was the culmination of a long-planned rape and murder fantasy Sullivan shared with Sara Packer, a former adoption supervisor for Northampton County's Division of Children, Youth and Families. Sara Packer was motivated by "hatred" for Grace, court records say.Sullivan, of Abington, Montgomery County, is charged with homicide, rape, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse and more than a dozen other offenses in connection with Grace's death in July 2016. Police say Sullivan confessed, first to hospital staff at the Horsham Clinic, where he and Sara Packer were treated following failed suicide attempts Dec. 30, then to police.
Prosecutors say Sara Packer and Sullivan killed Grace on July 8 in a Richland Township house they rented together. A few days later, Sara Packer reported Grace missing, telling police the teen stole $300 and ran away, according to police reports.
The couple hid Grace's body in the attic of the rental home for months, packed in cat litter, according to prosecutors.
After a police detective came to the house asking questions about Grace in October, Sara Packer and Sullivan allegedly dismembered the girl's body and dumped it in rural Luzerne County, where hunters discovered the remains Oct. 31.
Sullivan and Sara Packer are being held in the Bucks County Jail without bail. Weintraub said the investigation is ongoing.
"We're pretty confident that we will be vindicated and justified, and we'll get justice for Grace," he said.
The most vulnerable children in the society are those who are in the child welfare system and their complaints are not heard or they are too afraid to make them. What's to say such a sexual predator won't refine his skills for the next bout of offences? It happened with Sara Packer and her adopted child Grace who was asking for help for ages and no one heard her:
When Sara and David Packer put their 4-year-old foster daughter down to sleep, the girl would howl in a tiny bedroom with an alarm on the door, another former foster child of the Packers said.
inRead invented by Teads
The crying bothered Jessica Rotellini Law so much, she said, she told an employee at the agency that placed her, at age 16, in the Packers' Allentown home with Grace, her toddler brother and a 13-year-old girl in 2006.
Recently, Law said she recalls telling the agency employee that Grace was made to pick up dog droppings in the house and that Grace's brother once got hold of a large knife while he was unattended in the kitchen. David Packer, who would later admit to sexually assaulting Grace that year, was "overaffectionate with both girls," Law said she told the woman, whose name she no longer remembers a decade later.
Full Coverage: Grace Packer homicide
Law said no one ever followed up with her, and that within days of reporting her concerns, she was sent to live with a family in Montgomery County. Sometime in the next year, the Packers adopted Grace and her brother.
In July, when Grace was 14, Sara Packer, 42, and her boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, 44, tortured and killed the girl before dismembering her body and discarding it near a Luzerne County reservoir, police say. They are charged in her homicide.
Law found out about the horrific charges when a detective visited her last month, carrying a picture of Sara Packer. The concerns she said she voiced in 2006 should have raised red flags, social services experts say. Some wondered if Sara Packer's connection to the social services system — sources have told The Morning Call that Packer started fostering children through The Impact Project when she also was a caseworker there — may have affected the process.
Sara Packer's attorney, Keith Williams, did not return a call for comment. David Packer, who divorced Sara last year, also did not return a call.
Grace Packer was 14 years old when she was killed and her dismembered body was found in Luzerne County. Her mother and mother’s boyfriend are charged in the homicide. (THE MORNING CALL/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)
Officials at Impact — the for-profit agency that placed Law, Grace and dozens of other foster children in the Packers' home — would not address Law's account. Nor would officials at the state Department of Human Services. The Morning Call couldn't independently verify the account or determine if Law's contentions were investigated.
Courtney Wagaman, executive director of Impact, told The Morning Call last week that suspected abuse is always reported, and that all employees at the Emmaus agency are mandated to call the state's ChildLine registry with abuse allegations.
"The Impact Project stringently adheres without exception to the law's requirements that any instance of suspected child abuse is promptly reported to the appropriate authorities," Wagaman said.
It's possible a report was made to child-abuse investigators but there was no finding of abuse, which might have been why nothing changed for Grace, said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County. And it's possible the allegations weren't seen as serious enough to report.
The Impact Project of Emmaus released this two-sentence statement in response to allegations it received reports of abusive behavior by Sara Packer more than a decade before she was charged in the rape and murder of her adopted daughter, Grace.
But if there was any doubt whether the contentions measured up, Palm said, it should have been erased by Grace's status as a foster child.
"If you're torn, should I report or not, there is this added weight if the child is already part of the system either as an adopted child or a foster child," she said.
Any reports of suspected abuse not acted upon are missed opportunities where caseworkers could have stepped in, said Donna Petras, vice president for the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, D.C.
Cases in which authorities get information about suspected abuse and fail to act can be tragic for the one reportedly being abused and the foster child who sounded the warning but was not heard, she said.
"It's a total disaster and tragedy to everyone involved," she said.
What awaited Grace in Sara Packer and Sullivan's rented Richland Township home last July was nothing less than barbaric. According to the criminal complaint filed in Bucks County Court, she was raped by Sullivan while Sara Packer watched. Drugged, bound and gagged, she was left in a sweltering attic overnight, and when her mother and Sullivan found her alive the next morning, she was strangled by Sullivan, the court documents say. A few days later, Sara Packer reported Grace missing, telling police the teen stole $300 and ran away, court records say.
The couple packed Grace's body in cat litter, hiding it in the attic for months before dismembering it, the records say. Hunters found the girl's body parts on Halloween.
In January, after a failed suicide pact with Packer, Sullivan confessed, the documents say.
At an arraignment this month in Bucks County, prosecutors said they might seek the death penalty against Sara Packer, who pleaded not guilty. Sullivan is scheduled to be arraigned March 31.
There were signs in the period between Law's report and Grace's death that something was amiss in the Packer home. Another foster child, Crystal Rodack, found cellphone pictures of David Packer having sex with a 15-year-old foster daughter. Rodack told relatives, who went to police. In 2010, Packer was charged with sexually assaulting that girl and Grace. And in 2011, he pleaded guilty to indecent assault against Grace four years earlier, when she was 4 or 5, and statutory sexual assault against the older girl in 2008.
At some point after David Packer was charged, Grace temporarily was removed from Sara Packer's care, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin has said. Sara Packer was not charged but was "indicated" by the state in the case because she failed to realize her husband was molesting girls in their home, Williams, her lawyer, has said.
As a consequence, her name was placed on ChildLine and she lost her job as an adoption manager with Northampton County Children, Youth and Families Division, county records show. Sara Packer successfully appealed her "indicated" status, Williams said. Sources say she did not foster any more children.
Before finding the cellphone pictures, Rodack, who was an older teenager when she lived with the Packers for about three months, said she too told a worker at Impact that David Packer was overly affectionate toward a foster child. Rodack said the caseworker, whom she knew only by first name, "just blew it off and swept it under the rug and told me she basically knew these people and she's known them for quite some time and they're fine." The Morning Call could not verify her account.
Law said the Impact employee she told had a different response and seemed to take her concerns seriously.
"It was like an, Oh my God, reaction," she said.
Law's complaints, which included seeing David Packer and the 13-year-old cuddling on the couch, fall into a legal gray area, said Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia.
"There are set definitions of abuse and neglect. The problem is this behavior doesn't fit well into any of them," he said.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub speaks about Sara Packer after her arraignment. She is accused in the rape and murder of her 14-year-old adopted daughter, Grace Packer, and could face death penalty.
"It's hard to make out a crime or child-abuse case with what might appear to be benign touching, hugging, cuddling," Cervone said, adding that a parent intuitively knows that such contact is less appropriate with a 13-year-old than a 4-year-old.
The allegations that Grace was locked in her room and made to pick up dog feces seem to more closely fit the definitions of abuse, he said. But restraining a child was not clearly defined as abuse when Law made her 2006 report.
Child abuse was expanded in 2014 to include "unreasonably restraining or confining a child, based on consideration of the method, location or the duration of the restraint or confinement." Cervone said the definition was added to provide clarity for situations such as the one Grace was in.
Given the ambiguity of the allegations, the person receiving the report would have been in the position of making a judgment call, said Jay Ginsburg, an adoption attorney in Norristown. He wondered whether Sara Packer's connections with the social service system could have played a role.
"People knew her, people trusted her. She'd be the last person in the world you'd expect to do anything like that," said Ginsburg, who is not involved in the case and was speaking hypothetically.
It's for exactly that reason, Palm said, that the state rather than the counties investigates abuse allegations against people in the child-care system. It reduces the possibility of conflicts between foster parents and county caseworkers and employees of private agencies under contract with those counties.
"You can see how it might be possible — even unintentionally — for those who might be familiar with another to give them more of a pass," she said.
Palm believes another layer of protection for children is needed to ensure checks and balances, namely, an independent ombudsman who would provide additional oversight of the child welfare system.
When the system works properly, allegations made by a foster child to a caseworker or any agency employee would be reported to a supervisor and to ChildLine, said Cathy Utz, deputy secretary for DHS's Office of Children Youth and Families.
A ChildLine intake specialist would evaluate the complaint and if it has merit, forward it to a regional DHS office and law enforcement.
After the immediate safety of children in the home is assured, case workers would begin interviewing the alleged victim, the accused, other adults and children living there and anyone who might have witnessed the alleged abuse including neighbors, teachers or doctors, Utz said. Such reviews generally take about 60 days and are conducted parallel to law enforcement investigations.
In situations where an abuse allegation involves a child placed in foster care through a private agency, the agency would stop placing children in that home and take steps to determine whether the foster parent was suitable. The agency also would make sure all counties with children in the home are kept up to date.
"If the situation is such that it doesn't rise to the level of abuse but there are still concerns about the ability of those parents to care for children, then the agency should be taking steps to close that home," Utz said.
Regardless of whether the accused is convicted of a crime, investigators may determine that abuse did occur, and the state would make a record of the finding in the Childline database.
That registry, however, is not open to the public.
Law, who is 26 and a social worker in Philadelphia, said if what she reported as a teenager was told to her by a foster child now, she would feel obligated to call Childline.
Thinking back on her time with the Packers, she can remember her reaction to the way Grace was treated and how the situation was tinged with irony.
"I was taken from my parents for being neglected," she said. "And here I am in a situation where other children are being neglected."
Man sentenced for child sexual offences
Andrew Felling charged in Abbotsford and Mission
- Sat May 27th, 2017 9:00am
A man who was charged with 12 child sexual offences in Mission and five in Abbotsford has been sentenced to 14 months in prison on seven of the charges.
Andrew Douglas Felling, 36, was sentenced May 17 in Abbotsford provincial court on four of the Mission charges – sexual interference of a person under 14, sexual interference of a person under 16 and two counts of making or publishing child porn.
He was also sentenced on three of the Abbotsford charges – sexual interference, possessing child porn, and making or publishing child porn.
The remaining charges – all similar to the ones to which he pleaded guilty – were stayed.
Felling first came to police attention in Abbotsford, when he was charged with five offences in December 2013 and January 2014.
The charges were laid after an investigator with the Abbotsford Police Department was searching online for images of child sexual abuse.
He was able to trace the IP address of certain images to Felling’s residence in Abbotsford, and a search warrant was executed there, resulting in the seizure of evidence that he had sexually interfered with a youth.
Felling pleaded guilty in November 2014, but sentencing was delayed as police continued their investigation.
Felling was charged in August 2015 with nine offences in Mission. Three more charges were later added.