HARRISBURG — The number of substantiated child abuse cases in Pennsylvania dropped in 2012, according to an annual report that will be released today by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
The same cannot be said for Beaver, Lawrence, Fayette and Greene counties.
The group’s report, “State of Child Welfare,” says the number of child abuse reports that authorities found to be true increased this year in all four counties.
Greene County’s substantiated child abuse reports increased the most from last year to this year: 8.2 percent to 21.6 percent. Meanwhile, 26 more people than the 73 who reported child abuse in 2011 filed claims in 2012.
Lawrence County is still validating about one-in-four child abuse reports, the total of which remained statistically the same (151 to 153). Beaver County substantiated 23 percent of its 187 child abuse claims this year, up from 19 percent of its 201 reports a year ago.
And Fayette County received the same number of child abuse reports but substantiated more of them: 10.5 to 13.5 percent.
Across Pennsylvania, the number of reports of abuse to ChildLine (the state’s 24-hour-a-day hot line) and the state’s abuse registry fell by a scant 237 to 24,378 in 2012. The number of abused children who were abused again dropped from 9 percent in 2011 to 7.9 percent this year.
However, the number of substantiated child abuse reports dropped nearly a full percentage point (14.9 percent to 14 percent), but an official said that is not statistically meaningful.
“We’re basically hovering around a 14 to 15 percent substantiation rate,” said Mike Race, Pennsylvania Partnerships spokesman. “If it had dropped in half or doubled, then you’d start to think, ‘What’s going on with these numbers?’ ”
While the substantiation rate might seem low, Race said it does not necessarily mean people are filing bogus child abuse reports. He said there are times when more than one person will report a suspected case of child abuse. It only takes one of those reports to validate the fact there is child abuse, he said.
The number of children entering foster care dropped in 2012 as did the number of children living in foster care settings, the group’s report said.
There were 24,229 foster care kids in Pennsylvania in 2011 and 22,443 this year, a difference of 1,786.
That’s “progress,” the report says, but Race said the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is worried the state, as a whole, has hit a plateau in its efforts to reduce the need for foster care. He the group is hopeful the state will take advantage of the federal government’s new permissions to spend its child welfare dollars on prevention and give counties the flexibility to spend those dollars as each sees fit.
“We’ve got counties that are way different than one another. Their budgets are different, their staffs are different, their needs are different,” Race said.
“If we give them flexibility, they can make the best decisions on what resources are working in their counties,” he said.
There are now 369 children in foster care in Fayette County. That’s up from 188 children in foster care in 2011 and the increase represents the steepest jump compared to Greene, Beaver and Lawrence counties, where only slight movement occurred in each.
Most of Greene County’s foster children, 41.7 percent, are between the ages of 2 and 5 years old, while the heaviest percentage of Lawrence County foster kids, 36.2 percent, is between 13 and 17. Nearly 36 percent of Beaver County’s foster kids are also between 13 and 17, yet Fayette County is divided in its age spread as 26 percent of its foster kids are between 2 and 5 years old and 26 percent is between 13 and 17.
The majority of foster children in Fayette, Lawrence and Greene counties are white. Nearly 52 percent of the foster children in Beaver County are African American while 48 percent are white.
Despite the many numbers from a year that frequently linked child abuse with former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, Race says the overall takeaway from its 2012 report is that Pennsylvania cannot lose sight of the programs that actually help to protect children and keep them out of foster homes.
“As much as Sandusky garnered so much attention, the fact of the matter is most cases of child abuse and neglect aren’t as high profile and horrific as Sandusky’s was. A lot of these calls to ChildLine aren’t for the kind of abuse you think of when you hear Jerry Sandusky’s name,” Race said.
Source: Times Online