PA saw dramatic increase in child abuse deaths in 2020

Significantly more Pennsylvania children died or almost died from abuse in 2020 than in the previous year, according to the state's Department of Human Services.

The number of child abuse fatalities increased 43%, and near deaths increased 24%, according to the DHS annual Child Protective Services Report for 2020, released on October 7th.

Children most often died from a "violent act" in 2020, but the top reason for the increased numbers involved children and babies more frequently dying or nearly dying from ingesting drugs, according to Jon Rubin, DHS deputy secretary. Also, DHS noted "increases in prolonged and repeated lack of supervision during the pandemic," he said.

In 2019, 51 children died and 93 children nearly died because of child abuse. In 2020, 73 children died and 115 nearly died, Rubin said in a news conference today. 

In 2020, 43 children almost died from drugs - illegal or prescription - and in 2019, that number of near fatalities was 21 children. In 2020, 11 children died from ingesting drugs, and three died in 2019.

A fatality analysis team will study the cases to pinpoint trends that might be causing these increases, Rubin said..

Also announced is a DHS program aimed at keeping more children out of foster care.

The state began implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act on Oct. 1, according to DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead.

The program uses federal funding in homes where abuse or neglect are suspected to treat parents' mental health or substance abuse and to provide parenting skills training to “prioritize keeping children with their families" and out of foster care settings as much as possible, Snead said.

"The implementation of our plan will enhance the impact of work we're already doing to strengthen families and keep children safe with their families in their homes wherever and whenever possible," Snead said.

Child welfare advocate Richard Wexler wants the state to go beyond this program because it doesn't go far beyond the "status quo."

"It allows foster care funds to be diverted only to a very limited number of 'prevention' activities - and most of them involve helping the helpers more than helping families," he said via email today. "But since the real problem is far more likely to be the confusion of poverty with neglect, these 'services' sometimes can actually make things worse - by adding more useless hoops for families to jump through.

"If DHS is serious, it must go far beyond Family First and emphasize concrete help to ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty.  Then it must fund high-quality family defense so families can gain access to such services and fight  back against needless intrusion, racial bias, and unnecessary foster care," said Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

From York Daily Record