Special Efforts Being Made in Pennsylvania to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

County Child Abuse Fatality and Near Fatality Review Teams are required to review cases when it has been determined that abuse occurred, or when a final status determination has not been made within 30 calendar days from the date of the report. DHS is responsible for conducting the second level of review for all child fatalities and near fatalities when abuse is suspected, regardless of the status determination. This means that both substantiated and unfounded cases are reviewed. In order to learn from these cases and prevent similar future occurrences, DHS convened a Statewide Child Fatality and Near Fatality Trend Analysis Team to review content and data analyses to determine the contributing factors and symptoms of abuse and responses that may strengthen and expand prevention efforts. The team analyzes data and information collected on child abuse fatalities and near fatalities to identify and address gap areas of information availability, education, outreach, and service availability and accessibility identify areas that require systemic change in order to improve the delivery of services to children and families, and develop data-driven and research-informed recommendations, which will ultimately enhance the commonwealth’s ability to protect children.  The Team issued a 2016 report.   [Recommendation 6.3]

A sharp increase in child abuse-related fatalities from 2015 to 2016 led the Auditor General’s office to examine the safety of at-risk children by assessing the stresses on caseworkers at children and youth agencies. Also, Governor Wolf will allocate more funding for child and youth agencies in his budget, and lawmakers are calling for an additional $9 million to fund home visiting programs. [Recommendations 5.1, 7.3]

In 2016, DHS began posting the gender and age of a child within one week of receiving a fatality or near fatality report. Additionally, DHS provides the date of the report, whether it involved a fatality or a near fatality, and the county that will be convening the County Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Team.  The reports are updated quarterly.  [Recommendation 5.3f]

In 2016, the Legislature enacted SB 917 to encourage the multiple agencies that are normally involved in child welfare and delinquency cases to share information and work together toward the goal of achieving the best possible outcomes in these cases, pursuant to inter-agency information sharing agreements that would be approved by the Court, in order to identify and provide services to children who are determined to be at risk of child abuse, parental neglect or initial or additional delinquent behavior.  [Recommendation 6.1]

Local effort in Allegheny County: Allegheny County pioneered a predictive analytics tool using a “data warehouse” to help screen high-risk child abuse reports for further investigation. Every time a report of abuse comes into the county, that case is given a risk score. Since launching the initiative, the County has reduced the number of children in foster care from 3,000 in 1996 to just over 1,000 in 2016.   [Recommendation 6.1c]