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Protect Our Children Committee Responds to Annual Child Abuse Report Urges commitment to creating a Children’s Ombudsperson

 

April 15th – The Protect Our Children Committee (POCC) responded to today’s release of Pennsylvania’s 2009 Annual Child Abuse Report by calling for increased investment in proven prevention programs and the creation of an independent Children’s Ombudsperson in the Commonwealth.  

Advocates cited as promising news that the state’s rate of substantiated child abuse has declined – a decline that mirrors recent national reports.3,943 reports of the 25,342 reports that were investigated were determined to be child abuse – a 15.6 percent substantiation rate as compared to 16.4 percent in 2008.In addition, the number of child fatalities resulting from abuse declined in 2009.  

“Today’s report includes nuggets of good news but also compelling reminders that far too many children and families remain in crisis and require that the Commonwealth invest in effective strategies to prevent and treat child abuse,” said Delilah Rumburg, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.“The safety, custody, and permanency of children are of interest to all of us.”  

Advocates noted that Pennsylvania’s narrow definition of child abuse impacts the state’s child abuse substantiation rate and that Pennsylvania operates a differential child welfare response system.  

The annual report included some limited data on General Protective Services (GPS) - services provided to at-risk children and families to prevent child abuse and promote family stability distinct from Child Protective Services (CPS) provided when a child is the subject of a substantiated child abuse report.In 2009, the state reported that 36,373 GPS reports were received.  

“Pennsylvania’s General Protective Services work to prevent child abuse and the out-of-home placement of a child, including those that will build the confidence and competences of a child’s parent(s),” said Jenna Mehnert, Executive Director of the PA Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.“GPS are part of a comprehensive child welfare system with local, regional and state components but they are also part of a system that today includes no degree of independence or impartial mechanism to address complaints and concerns about a child’s safety or the child welfare system overall.”  

1,300 or about five percent of the suspected child abuse reports investigated were re-abuse reports.Nine percent of the re-abuse cases investigated were substantiated.  

DPW reported that 43 children died as a result of child abuse in Pennsylvania in 2009 – down from 50 in 2008.Sixty percent of the 43 children had previously received GPS, intake services or other services through the county child welfare agency.As in prior years, the annual report raises questions about the degree to which child fatalities that appear to be child abuse related reported in the media and known to the community may be excluded from the annual report.  

“At least 344 Pennsylvania children have died as a result of child abuse since 2002 with approximately half of the children known, in some way, to the child welfare system,” stressed Cathleen Palm, Executive Director of the Protect Our Children Committee.“Too many times a bell has been rung by a mandated reporter or a concerned family member but appropriate and effective intervention may not have resulted or been timely enough and a child lost their life.”  

Responding to a 2008 law, DPW recently began posting child fatality and near-fatality reports on their website, but counties have been slower to respond.  

“Recent changes in Pennsylvania law have removed a bit of the mystery that surrounds our child welfare system, including informing the public whether a child who died was known to the child welfare system,” noted Jenny Pokempner of Juvenile Law Center.“Children and families would greatly benefit from increased use of multi-disciplinary interventions, improved access to legal representation in child welfare proceedings and ultimately the creation of a Children’s Ombudsperson.”  

Since 2008, DPW has had an Ombudsperson workgroup and in the current legislative session Representative Scott Petri has introduced legislation creating a statewide Children’s Ombudsman (House Bill 788).Creating a Children’s Ombudsperson was also a 2002 recommendation of the Joint State Government Commission’s Task Force on Services to Children and Youth.  

On Monday, POCC will join with the Coalition of Pennsylvania Crime Victim Organizations at an 11:00 a.m. press conference in the capitol rotunda to recognize national Crime Victims’ Rights Week.POCC will use the forum to officially launch Ring the Bell for Children – Create a Children’s Ombudsperson.  

Additional information can be found at www.protectpachildren.org or by calling 610-488-5059.   ###

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