State report sees increase in suspected child abuse cases

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HARRISBURG — An annual state report on child abuse showed more reports of suspected child abuse in 2013 than any other year, though there was a decrease in the number of substantiated reports.

ChildLine, the state’s abuse hotline, received 26,944 reports of abuse in 2013. Of those, 3,425, or 13 percent, were substantiated.

The topic of child abuse and improving the state’s child protection laws has been a hot topic at the Capitol for some time. Approximately 20 bills have been signed by Gov. Tom Corbett since last fall to bring the state’s definition of child abuse in line with national standards and otherwise update child protection laws.

The continuing attention to the topic likely accounts for the increased reporting. 

“This marks the second year in a row we have set a new record in Pennsylvania for suspected reports of child abuse — a trend that quite likely has been driven in part by the increased public awareness about child abuse in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and other high-profile abuses cases,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of child advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, speaking of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University.

Pennsylvania tends to have among the lowest child abuse substantiation rates in the nation due to a high legal threshold for defining abuse; a law to take effect later this year should change that.

“We believe the increased awareness on the issue and information available on where to go to report suspected abuse has successfully empowered people to speak up,” Department of Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth said in a statement accompanying the release of the report Friday.

“We have made these channels [for reporting abuse] more known to people,” said Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the department.

Still, there were some negative trends in the report, said child protection advocate Cathleen Palm.

She cited the fact that 9 percent of substantiated reports of abuse were cases of “re-abuse,” meaning the child has been abused previously.

”I think it says, [are] we effectively assessing the family situation, and if a child should be returned to the home, and if there’s enough support in the home?”

Ms. Palm also cited the 38 substantiated child-abuse-related child fatalities in 2013, five more than the previous year.

In Allegheny County, there were 1,699 reports of abuse with 66, or 3.3 percent, substantiated.

The county had three substantiated child abuse-related fatalities last year and three near-fatalities.

The entire report is available on the department’s website: dpw.state.pa.us


Kate Giammarise: 717-787-4254 or kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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