At the start of 2015, a number of new child protection requirements took effect in Pennsylvania, including an expansion of how child abuse is defined and who is required to report it. You may have heard some counties across the commonwealth are beginning to see sharp increases in reporting. For instance, as of Jan. 16, the Children's Bureau in Westmoreland County had 29 percent more reports than in the entire month of January 2014. This has spurred the county to increase its staff complement by 10 percent to handle the increased workload. Cumberland County is another example where additional staff are being added to the ranks.
While there may be a temporary surge in reporting due to increased awareness, time will tell if the new Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) has grown child welfare workloads indefinitely. Clearly, the new requirements broaden the scope of reports to which local child welfare agencies must respond. Previously, law enforcement would have handled some of these reports independently because the alleged perpetrator might not have fallen under the CPSL definition of a potential perpetrator of child abuse, even though they may have committed a crime against a child.
There also are other drivers for increased reporting, such as how the new CPSL lowers the threshold on what rises to the level of child abuse and the expansion of individuals required to report suspected abuse.
The ripple effect of the new CPSL must be monitored closely by policymakers, media and key stakeholders. Increased reporting means the child welfare system must increase its response – this could require additional staffing, child welfare services, court interaction, use of foster care, etc. This chain reaction has implications related to cost, but it also enables greater hope our children will be safer.
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