HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- With kids stuck at home early in the pandemic, a new report says child-abuse cases decreased in 2020, but children's advocates say it is likely a result of the abuse going undocumented, and there is work to be done to better respond to children's needs during a public-health crisis.
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children's annual State of Child Welfare report showed nearly 33,000 fewer cases of child abuse or neglect in 2020 than the previous year, a 22 percent decrease. But this year, the number of abuse cases investigated and substantiated was at its highest in the last five years.
Rachel Miller, policy director at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said it is cause for concern.
"As stay-at-home orders were implemented, children were moved to virtual learning and having less contact with those mandated reporters, such as teachers or medical professionals," Miller explained. "And we saw a direct correlation to a significant decrease in mandated reporting trends."
Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services (DHS) data from 2021 on child abuse reports, investigations, and foster care will not be available until 2022. Miller predicts the state will likely see an increase in kids entering foster care or staying longer in the system as a result of mandated reporting making a comeback.
The report also included policy recommendations, such as investing in the Child Protective Services workforce, which has seen high turnover due to low pay and burnout exacerbated by the pandemic.
Miller argued the skilled workers are critical to preventing child abuse and intervening when abuse is detected.
"Child-welfare staff are essential employees," Miller contended. "Those staff shortages lead to workers carrying high caseloads where they can barely do the bare minimum, let alone meet any of the other important outcomes for children like conducting thorough investigations, preventing placement, and ensuring permanency."
She added the Pennsylvania Partnerships report has been shared with DHS. Other recommendations included creating a statewide case management system and addressing racial inequity in child protective services and foster care.
Source: Keystone State News Connection