Abbie Bartels Has Died, After Indefensible Hershey School Decisions. It’s Time To Put Child Welfare Professionals In Charge, Before Any More Children Are Harmed.

Tell Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane It’s Time To Protect Vulnerable Children At The $11 Billion Hershey Charity, Before Another Child Tragically Dies.

Abbie Bartels, a 14-year-old child, is dead. She committed suicide after facing indefensible policies at the Milton Hershey School, a charity with $11 billion in resources, including a controlling interest in the Hershey Company.

Abbie had spent ten years in residential care at Hershey, a school for disadvantaged children, having been enrolled at the age of four. 

Abbie was an honor role student, tenderhearted, and loved by all. She was also a member of an anti-bullying group and always put other children first.

But this spring, Abbie experienced severe depression and was doing her best to work through it. 

Receiving help, Abbie had begun repairing her self-esteem and was on her way to recovery. She was also excitedly anticipating her 8th grade graduation, together with her Hershey friends, whom she thought of as her family.

But ignoring the advice of professionals treating Abbie, Hershey administrators told her that she would not be permitted to return to the school.

They also informed Abbie’s family that she could not even attend her 8th grade graduation and student home picnic —and they threatened to call security if Abbie showed up, treating this tender and harmless child like a pariah. 

Even Hershey staff were mystified by the administration’s posture and struggled to understand why, with the school psychologist breaking down and crying on the phone over it.

But he was powerless to question Hershey leaders whose actions are shielded by Pennsylvania officials, no matter what decisions they make.

With nowhere to turn, Abbie’s fragile psyche could not withstand the added blows: a week later, she took her own life, after telling her brother that she had cried all night and wanted only to return to Hershey, the place she called home. 

Hershey administrators then allowed Abbie to return, to be buried in the Hershey Cemetery, paying for her funeral.

Abbie’s death is part of a long legacy of Hershey misconduct and poor decisions. 

This includes discrimination against kids with HIV, reckless housing experiments, gross misuse of funds, and self-enrichment by “charitable” board members who pay themselves millions, though they lack educational or child welfare qualifications. 

Hershey leadership hiring is also not driven by child welfare interests, but by fealty to the status quo.

It’s not that Hershey does not do vast good. On the contrary, with $11 billion in resources, it helps many needy children each year. But because of poor policy decisions and asset misuse, Hershey only scratches the surface of its enormous child-saving potential. 

Program flaws are revealed in massive attrition: more than one child is removed from Hershey on average every school day, despite $100,000 in per child annual spending. In the last ten years, 2,034 children were removed, while only 1,439 graduated. 

But rather than fixing systemic problems, Hershey’s leaders simply expel the children harmed by them. Abbie’s case is one example.

And sadly, those in charge are protected by their political allies in Pennsylvania government. 

These oversight officials — from both parties — refuse to intervene, no matter how many children are harmed. Even when children are put at risk of sexual abuse due to dangerous housing arrangements, the authorities fail to act against the politically and financially powerful Hershey trust. 

The latest example was the July selection as interim Hershey school president of a politically-connected insider with no educational or child welfare experience –but who happens to be the brother-in-law of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s chief of staff. 

Attorney General Kane has direct oversight responsibility for Hershey; and this questionable appointment demonstrated that disregard for the interests of needy children would continue.

Even worse, just before the appointment, Attorney General Kane gave the Hershey board a free pass when she closed an unprecedented Hershey investigation without any meaningful action. This was despite very serious allegations of board self-enrichment, poor policy, and misuse of charitable funds. Attorney General Kane even let the board completely off the hook for squandering $25 million of child welfare money on a scandalous luxury golf project, raising grave questions that have yet to be answered.

But Attorney General Kane packaged this oversight travesty as “dramatic reform,” relying on public inattentiveness to do so. This brought condemnation from respected charitable trust observers, who warned of the consequences for needy children.

Less than two months later, Abbie Bartels was dead; and the disturbing manner in which Abbie was treated underscores just how dysfunctional Hershey has become.

All of which is why we ask you here to join us in telling Attorney General Kane that she must act now — before another child is harmed on her watch — by placing qualified people in charge at Hershey, and ending the charity’s use as a patronage mill or insider job-mart.

For more information, including historical Hershey background and a video tribute to Abbie, please visit:

Thank you for helping us to protect Hershey children, and for making sure that no other child ever again has to endure the treatment that Abbie faced.

On behalf of Abbie’s family,

Protect The Hersheys’ Children, Inc.

Please also visit our Facebook page:

For a Harvard Law School presentation on Hershey problems and how the school can save vastly more children, please watch “Making Bitter Chocolate Sweet: The Milton Hershey School's Past and Hoped for Future:”

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  • Pennsylvania Attorney General
    Kathleen Kane

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