Angela Liddle

Angela Liddle

HARRISBURG – The number of children across the state killed from abuse dropped from 46 in 2016 to 40 in 2017. But both the number of reports of suspected child abuse and the number of cases of abuse substantiated by caseworkers continued to climb.

Child protective services received a total of 47,485 allegations of child abuse in 2017 and caseworkers substantiated that 4,836 of those cases seemed to qualify as child abuse, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Human Services. 

Advocates such as Angela Liddle, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, said there’s little to cheer in the new findings.

For one thing, sexual abuse remains the most common form of abuse, she said.

And while the number of children who died from abuse dropped, the number of children so seriously injured that their injuries were considered “nearly fatal” increased from 79 in 2016 to 88 in 2017.

The manner in which some of those children were nearly killed, Liddle said, is “concerning.”  

There were increased numbers of children who nearly perished from ingesting drugs, from malnutrition or the failure of adults to seek medical care for them, she said.

“That begs the question of what’s going on with these families,” she said.

Liddle added that 60 of the 88 nearly fatal abuse victims were previously known to child welfare agencies.

“A particularly haunting aspect of the report that cries out for attention is the fact that 13 of the children killed last year were under age 1 and 19 were between the ages of 1 and 4. 

Early childhood can be a dangerous time for some children in Pennsylvania,” she said.

The number of tips passed along to county caseworkers increased 7 percent over 2016. 

But the increase comes on top of the spike in tips that following child protection law revisions passed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  

The number of tips passed along to child protective services staff was 60 percent more than they’d gotten in 2014, state data show.

The flood of new tips had overwhelmed the state’s child abuse hotline in 2014, when state officials estimated that 4 in 10 callers never got to an operator. 

But even as the tips continued to increase, the new report finds that in 2017 operators were able to largely keep pace – almost 97 percent of calls were answered.

“Governor (Tom) Wolf has worked to improve our ChildLine system and make state government even more responsive to the needs of children at risk,” Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said. 

“The Department of Human Services has worked to ensure more awareness of ChildLine with the goal of protecting more kids by having less abuse go unreported.”

The number of cases substantiated as abuse grew 11 percent from 2016 to 2017 and it’s up 57 percent since 2014, the report finds.

By the numbers

 

The state Department of Human Services released the following 2017 child abuse data:

State

Total allegations of child abuse: 47,485

Number of substantiated cases: 4,836

Deaths from child abuse: 40

Near-fatal cases of abuse: 88

Rate of allegations of abuse per 1,000 children: 17.6

Rate of substantiated cases per 1,000 children: 1.8

State and county spending on child abuse investigations: $324 million

Cambria County

Total allegations of child abuse: 584

Number of substantiated cases: 42

Deaths from child abuse: 0

Near-fatal cases of abuse: 3

Rate of allegations of abuse per 1,000 children: 21.9

Rate of substantiated cases per 1,000 children: 1.6

County spending on child abuse: $2.42 million

Somerset County

Total allegations of child abuse: 297

Number of substantiated cases: 18

Deaths from child abuse: 0

Near-fatal cases of abuse: 0

Rate of allegations of abuse per 1,000 children: 21.2

Rate of substantiated cases per 1,000 children: 1.3

County spending on child abuse: $1.17 million 

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.