Child abuse reporting steadily increasing in midstate

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jul 28, 2014 4:00 AM


(Harrisburg) -- Across 15 midstate counties, child abuse reports have steadily increased in the past five years, though the increases vary throughout the midstate. 

In Lebanon County, child abuse reports increased by 46 cases between 2009 and 2013.

Over the same time span, York County went from 1,093 to 1,320, and Lancaster County surged from 803 in 2009 to 1,117. In Berks, reports skyrocketed about 30 percent over that time frame. 

Here's a look at the total number of reports by county:

Abuse reports in Perry fell by 12 in five years, and Cumberland and Union Counties saw decreases of just a handful of reports.  

Todd Lloyd, Child Welfare Policy Director at the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, says the Jerry Sandusky case raised awareness.

"This is why I think some of the recent high profile cases that have been noted in the media and people have been hearing about this, the more I think they're recognizing what abuse is and becoming more willing to report it."

"Honestly, I think we are a long way away from people over-reporting. We still see instances here of under-reporting. We go out to do training at places where you would think this is commonly understood," says Deborah Harrison, Executive Director of York County Children's Advocacy Center.

As for substantiated reports, here's two graphs showing the changes in the midstate:

She says educating the public about the issue is important because some people may not report abuse because they don't recognize it.

Harrison says employees in many child care centers often don't fully understand the law, and she often has to explain it's against state law for a superior to interfere with reporting child abuse.

She and other advocates say reporting starts an investigation and doesn't necessarily implicate anyone.

"[Filing a report] will provide an opportunity to provide services to families that maybe aren't getting them today. And the hope then would be that we're actually reducing instances of child abuse. We're actually preventing the abuse from ever occurring," says Lloyd at the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

He says taking that step, whether anonymously or not, can give groups the power to go in and address the problem.

Wendy Hoverter, the Administrator for Cumberland County's Children and Youth Services, echoes Lloyd.

"There's a lot of prevention we can do with that family. There's a lot of services we can offer to prevent the next injury from being worse. They're really aiding efforts in prevention."

The percentage of reports that have been substantiated by investigators has generally held steady across the midstate over the past five years.

A new, expanded definition of child abuse takes effect soon in the commonwealth. 

Starting December 31st, child abuse will be bodily injury, plain and simple.

Currently, the definition requires severe pain or impairment of a child's functioning.

Experts say because of the change, the number of reports from 2014 and earlier should not be compared to previous numbers after this year.

Under other approved legislation, mandated reporters will also have to inform law enforcement about a problem, not just their supervisors.

Meanwhile, a recent survey found that few in Pennsylvania think child abuse is a "serious problem."


This post has been updated to correctly label the total number of reports. An earlier error had classified it as "unsubstantiated reports", when the numbers include both "unsubstantiated" and "substantiated" reports.

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