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York County received the fourth most reports of child abuse in the state last year but was behind just Philadelphia and Dauphin counties in terms of substantiated reports, according to the state Department of Human Services' annual child protective services report.

The county's number of child-abuse reports rose from 1,486 in 2014 to 1,832, a figure that trailed only Philadelphia, Allegheny and Lancaster counties, data shows.

The county's number of substantiated reports rose from 142 in 2014 to 156, though that reduced the percentage of reports that were substantiated from 9.6 percent in 2014 to 8.5 percent in 2015.

According to the report, substantiated reports refer to founded or indicated reports. A founded report means that there was court action, and an indicated report means that that the agency found child abuse occurred based on medical evidence, an investigation or admission.

Impact: The state's rewritten laws, which took effect at the beginning of 2015, redefined child abuse, expanded the list of mandatory reporters and streamlined the reporting process, among other changes, leading to a dramatic bump in referrals.

The percentage of reports found to be substantiated dropped throughout the state from 11.4 percent in 2014 to 10.4 percent last year, according to the DHS report.

The agency says sexual abuse was involved in 47 percent of the substantiated claims.

Tina Phillips, director of training for the Pennsylvania Family Support Association, said the new laws were expected to increase the rate of substantiated reports, but a variety of factors, including application of the law and quality of reports, could be looked at as possible causes for the drop.

Phillips said more information is needed, as some reports that don't necessarily qualify as abuse still warrant general protective services, to obtain a full picture of the new law's impact.

Regardless, Phillips said the law has clearly increased the number of reporters and helped identify more victims who are being protected from further abuse, which was its intent.

Locally: York County, despite having the eighth highest population of children in the state, had the third most substantiated reports of child abuse.

With 1.6 substantiated reports per 1,000 children, York County was right on par with the state average, but that figure ranked behind just Philadelphia among counties with at least 70,000 children.

Child abuse is pervasive and affects every socioeconomic class, Phillips said, but certain factors can increase the risk of child abuse, including stressors in the family, vulnerability of the child and drug or alcohol problems in the household.

Terry Clark, director of the county's Office of Children, Youth and Families, noted that abuse reports are just a portion of the total number of cases his office is dealing with. The office had another 2,200 or so reported cases of neglect in 2015, and those take just as long to investigate, Clark said.

But even considering possible abuse and neglect cases, York County is still in the top few counties around the state, he said. Clark isn't sure why; looking on the bright side, he said it could be that the York area is even less likely than other areas to allow child abuse to go unreported, and that it's more educated about it.

"Or it could be just that there’s more going on here" in terms of violence, drug abuse, poverty and other societal afflictions that feed into child abuse, he said.

CYF: York's CYF agency is currently operating on its fourth consecutive downgraded license, which is in effect until Nov. 15. If the county doesn't receive its full license after the next inspection, it will lose its certification of compliance, and state officials will take over day-to-day operations.

The state has never had to take over a county's child-protection office because of licensing issues, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Inspection reports have cited high turnover and referral numbers as causes for agency issues, and Clark has previously cited statistics that show a 122 percent increase in referrals since 2014.

County commissioner Doug Hoke, who said he had not yet seen the state child-abuse report, said the commissioners have been working closely with CYF and provided them with many resources.

"We're hopeful they will get off the provisional license," he said.

The commissioners recently approved CYF's submission of a needs-based plan and budget in excess of $52.5 million for July 2017 through June 2018 to the state that accounted for a desire to hire 37 employees during the next two years.

According to the DHS report, York County spent about $1.15 million on child-abuse investigations in 2015, a figure that ranks behind only Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Delaware, Erie, Lehigh, Northampton and Philadelphia counties.

Phillips said it's important to remember this report isn't just numbers.

"We're talking about children," she said.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid. Staff writer Sean Cotter contributed to this report.

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