“Grace’s Law” Seeks To Reform Child Welfare System After Brutal Killing

State lawmakers have introduced a series of bills to reform the child welfare system. 

In it’s current form, the trio of bills is called the Grace Packer Memorial Package. But Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub hopes it will one day become Grace’s Law.

Grace Packer. Photo via Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.

The effort is named for Grace Packer. A Bucks County girl, Grace was 14 years old when her adoptive mother and mother’s live-in boyfriend brutally murdered her.

Prosecutors laid out details of her murder at trial in March 2019. Sara Packer admitted in court to aiding Jacob Sullivan in the beating, rape, dismemberment, and ultimate disposal of her adopted daughter.

The new bills aim to prevent anything like Grace’s murder from happening again. State Reps. Craig Staats (R-Bucks) and Chris Quinn (R-Delaware) announced the package at the Bucks County Justice Center on Wednesday.

“The child protective services system failed in it’s mission to protect her,” said Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub. His office prosecuted the case, securing a guilty plea from Sullivan and a conviction of Packer at trial.

Sara Packer was a county adoption worker when she adopted Grace as a toddler in the early 2000’s. But as the years went on, their home life deteriorated. Authorities found Grace suffered significant emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

In 2019, the state Office of State Inspector General launched an investigation into how the child welfare system missed the signs. It is still ongoing.

“Grace Packer was murdered five years ago. The child protective services system failed in its mission to protect her,” Weintraub said. “This proposed legislation is long overdue. I commend Representatives Staats and Quinn for moving forward with this legislation despite not having the report on the systemic failures that the inspector general promised us over two years ago.”

Below is an outline of the Grace Packer Memorial Package, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.

  • House Bill 1843 would require the implementation of the statewide child welfare case management system. Mandated by a 2014 law, the system still has not been put into use. The Commonwealth of Virginia, which like Pennsylvania has county-based child welfare agencies, has had a statewide case management system since the late 1990s.
  • House Bill 1844 would change the requirement to retain records in most cases from one year or 10 years to 30 years; eliminate the provision providing for expunction for a perpetrator who was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse upon that individual reaching age 23; eliminate much of the discretion the secretary of Human Services can exercise in expunging records.
  • House Bill 1845 would define a “valid” report in the PA Child Protective Services Law.

The package has been referred to the House Children and Youth Committee.