Child Abuse Prevention Month brings unwelcomed local stats

It’s not a distinction any county seeks.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Annual Child Abuse Report for 2011, Warren County was ranked sixth highest in the state for substantiated abuse per 1,000 children.

For every 1,000 children in Warren County that year, approximately 2.8 suffered substantiated abuse that was reported to authorities.

That means 61 of the state’s 67 counties have a lower rate of child abuse after population is taken into account.

A total of 109 reports of child abuse under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law were received in 2011 and 22 percent of them were substantiated upon further investigation. In 2012, total reports increased to 126, but only approximately 17.4 percent were substantiated.

According to Jan Burek, intake supervisor with Forest-Warren Counties Human Services, child abuse reports are designated into three categories: unfounded, or those where a report was made but there was not enough evidence to support that abuse occurred; indicated, or those where a civil finding based on “substantial evidence” through perpetrator admission, medical evidence or investigative evidence indicates abuse occurred; and founded, or those cases in which there was a judicial finding that abuse occurred, such as in the case of a legal hearing.

There is no way to measure possible unreported child abuse rates, but research indicates the majority goes unreported. A 2008 series of reports in the British medical journal The Lancet estimated as many as nine out of ten cases of abuse in wealthy, developed nations are never confirmed by child service agencies.

A total of 898 children received some form of in-home service from child welfare programs in Warren County in 2012.

“It think some of our challenges are awareness,” Burek said, “wanting to stay out of the situation. Our perpetrators tend to be people who are known to the child.”

In 2012, there were 90 reports of physical child abuse in Warren County, of which only approximately 7.8 percent were designated indicated. That year, 21 reports of sexual child abuse were made, of which approximately 71.4 percent were designated indicated. That means the majority 68 percent of substantiated reports of child abuse in Warren County in 2012 were cases of sexual abuse.

“Over half of our indicateds are sexuals,” Burek said. “A lot of it is statutory (rapes). Our sexual substantiation rate has increased, but I’m not sure if it’s greater awareness or not. What we’re seeing, too, is there’s pregnancy resulting. There are things resulting that they can’t deny it.”

Ruth Chase, with A Safe Place, and Burek agreed an upswing in reports was expected following passage of stricter, expanded mandated reporting laws in Pennsylvania in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University.