REGION—Changes in recent years to legislation governing the reporting and investigation of child abuse and other protective care measures have increased the degree of intake calls and investigations into child abuse and other youth services across the state.
Expanded definitions of what constitutes abuse have “at least come into the 20th century,” stated Lackawanna County Executive Director of You and Family Services, William Browning.
He explained this included things like removing a pain threshold as part of the child's examination to determine abuse.
Browning stated county and state operations are set to receive more federal aid from the Family First Prevention Services Act.
Browning noted another change slowly making its way into federal law is a reduction in child assignment to institutions and congregate care facilities.
“As a county, we don't believe in it,” he said, noting the facilities can be further sources of neglect and abuse which is not good for the children attending them.
Lackawanna strives to work with and support families to keep children in the care of relatives, said Browning.
Additionally, the county's Family Intersystems Team (FIT) works with community partners to help 14- to 21-year-olds who meet diagnostic criteria for serious mental illness or at risk of being placed in out of home care, get treatment they need.
The director stated many cases of child neglect and abuse are often tied into instances where substance abuse is prevalent in the household.
Browning stated it is his belief that addressing issues of addiction as a disease rather than a crime could help by keeping parents in the household and working with them to correct the behaviors that lead not only to their substance abuse, but to child neglect as well.
Keeping all these factors in context with each other is beneficial to treating them all, he said.
According to the Child Protective Services (CPS) 2017 Annual Report, there were over 47,000 reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania last year, of which 4,836 were substantiated.
Of the substantiated cases, 60 percent involved female victims, 40 led to fatalities and 88 resulted in near fatalities.
The state also saw 163,852 General Protective Services reports filed in 2017, an increase of over 10,000 from 2016.
Over 80,000 reports were assessed, of which, 37,287 were proven valid.
The Northeast Regional Office, covering Wayne, Pike, Monroe, Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon, Schuykill, Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wyoming Susquehanna, Bradford, Sullivan and Tioga Counties, investigated 401 total reports, 19 of which were substantiated.
Of the 19 substantiated reports, the largest amount were sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse/bodily injury.
Ten substantiated incidents took place within residential services and 7 within a foster family care setting.
The largest amount of reports made and substantiated within the region was in Lehigh, with 228 and 10 respectively.
Breakdown by county
Lackawanna County had 716 total reports in 2017, 94 of which were substantiated.
As compared to past data, the number of substantiated reports in 2017 was fewer than those in 2015, but higher than in 2016.
These relations are reversed for number of total reports.
More than half (54.3%) of the 2017 substantiated reports had male victims.
Of the types of allegations put forth in substantiated reports, the most prominent (47.9%) were sexual abuse, followed by physical or bodily injury (32.5%).
Though the County saw no abuse-related fatalities in 2017, there was one near fatality of a male victim.
Lackawanna's total number of general protective service reports for 2017 was 3,373, of which, 2,355 were assessed and 1,069 were proven to be valid.
In 2017, Lackawanna County spent almost one million dollars more ($5.41 million total) on investigations and general protective service assessments than the year before.
Compared to the much more populated Lackawanna County, Pike County saw far fewer reports.
In 2017, Pike County had a total of 146 reports of child abuse, only eight of which were substantiated.
Both these numbers are slightly lower than in 2015 and 2016.
Six of the eight victims in 2017 were female.
None of the Pike County cases led to fatalities or near fatalities.
Of the ten allegations set forth by the substantiated reports, four were for sexual abuse, three for physical abuse or bodily injury, two for serious mental injury and one for reasonable likelihood of bodily injury.
Child abuse aside, Pike County saw 549 general protective service reports, 181 of which were assessed and 69 were shown to be valid.
County expenditures for investigations and general protective service assessments remained the same between 2016 and 2017, hovering around $396,000, though state funding in Pike County increased from $232 million to $306 million.
Wayne County saw 210 suspected child abuse reports and 27 substantiated reports filed by CYS in 2017.
Both these figures are higher than were found in the two years prior.
Of the 27 substantiated cases, 18 victims were female and nine were male.
None of these resulted in fatalities or near fatalities.
Of the cases filed in Wayne County, 12 were suspected to be cases repeat abuse and two were substantiated as such.
In total, there were 70 child abuse allegations filed as a result of the 2017 substantiated reports.
More than 60 percent of the allegations were of sexual abuse.
In terms of general protective service reports, Wayne County saw 700, 491 of which were assessed and 198 proven to be valid.
Wayne County spent $514,000 on child abuse investigations, roughly $200,000 less than the year before.
State funding supplied for Wayne County increased from $232 million in 2016 to $306 million in 2017.
More information regarding statewide, child-protective efforts is available on the Department of Human Services website: www.dhs.pa.gov.