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Child abuse reports continue rising in York County
Of all 67 Pennsylvania counties, York County handled the third-highest number of child-abuse reports last year, according to an annual state report released Wednesday.
The county trailed only Philadelphia and Allegheny counties with nearly 2,000 reports, and the 204 substantiated child-abuse reports in York is a figure that trails only Philadelphia and Dauphin counties.
Both numbers have sharply increased during the past two years, rising from 142 substantiated reports among 1,486 in 2014 to 156 substantiated reports among 1,832 in 2015.
According to the state Department of Human Services' annual child protective services report, substantiated reports refer to founded or indicated reports. A founded report means that there was court action, and an indicated report means that the agency found child abuse occurred based on medical evidence, an investigation or admission.
York CYF: Based on population, York County received 20 reports and more than two substantiated reports per 1,000 children; both rates that are higher than the state average.
The report also notes that the county saw six child fatalities and two near fatalities during the year.
Child-abuse reports have been increasing statewide since 2015, when rewritten laws took effect that redefined child abuse, expanded the list of mandatory reporters and streamlined the reporting process, among other changes.
The increase has put a strain on the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families, which is dealing with high staff turnover and a large number of cases per caseworker, both of which are common among child-welfare offices.
CYF director Terry Clark, who could not be reached Wednesday to comment on the report, has said industry standards suggest agencies employ a ratio of 12 active cases per caseworker, but his agency's caseworkers have as many as 30 cases at a time, which is the maximum allowed under state law.
Auditor 'alarmed': Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale last year released a scathing report of an investigation into Pennsylvania's ChildLine child-abuse reporting hotline, finding 42,000 calls, or 22 percent, to the state's child-abuse reporting hotline went unanswered in 2015, and numerous others weren't monitored by a supervisor or didn't generate reports.
On Wednesday, he issued a statement on the latest child protective services report:
“I am horrified that the number of children who died from abuse in Pennsylvania rose last year to 46. One child dying from abuse is too many; 46 is unconscionable.”
DePasquale said the 79 substantiated near-fatalities indicate county agencies are struggling to protect children who are at risk for abuse or might have already been abused.
“There is something systemically wrong if children-and-youth agencies don’t have the resources to be able to fulfill their primary responsibility of protecting children,” he said.
The state Auditor General's Office is preparing a special report, titled "State of the Child," examining job stresses for caseworkers and the impact of high turnover and minimal training at 13 county agencies, including York. That report is expected to be complete this fall.
Haven Evans, training director for the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, said county child-welfare agencies need additional resources to adequately protect children.
York CYF, which received its full license in November after four consecutive provisional licenses, requested more state funding in order to hire more employees.
County commissioners could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The agency spent more than $3.3 million on child-abuse investigations and general protective services assessments in 2016, according to the report. That figure ranked 17th among the state's 67 counties.
State figures: Overall, the DHS report shows 44,359 reports and 4,597 substantiated reports of child abuse throughout the state.
Both figures have been rising since at least 2012, though the number of reports spiked (approximately 29,500 to 42,000) from 2014 to 2015.
More than 47 percent of the substantiated reports involved sexual abuse, and more than 61 percent of the victims of substantiated reports were girls.
Angela Liddle, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a statement that "these statistics are clear indications that we have much more work to do together to protect Pennsylvania’s youngest and most vulnerable residents from harm and to give them the innocent childhood they deserve."