HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — A state study released Thursday found the number of Pennsylvania children killed or nearly killed after abuse had occurred spiked recently, increases likely driven by a new definition of abuse and an uptick in its reporting in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky and Catholic clergy child sexual abuse scandals.
The state Human Services Department report into fatalities and near fatalities during 2015 and 2016 showed both types of reports were up sharply after being fairly level for the preceding six years.
The number of substantiated fatalities and near fatalities ranged between 80 and 92 from 2009 through 2014. In 2016, that number was 127.
The study attributes the rise in part to revisions to the state Child Protective Service Law that took effect at the end of 2014 because the state expanded the definition of abuse, who can be considered a perpetrator, and who must report suspected abuse. Those legislative changes were adopted in response to the Sandusky and clerical abuse scandals.
During the 2014-16 period, the number of calls to the ChildLine system for reporting suspected abuse in Pennsylvania increased by about 50 percent, from nearly 30,000 to more than 44,000.
Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. He is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence, but recently won an appeals court decision giving him a new sentencing hearing.
A team that analyzed the data for the state recommended Pennsylvania provide more support for county-level death review teams and expand education about child abuse deaths for schools, police and those who provide behavioral health and substance abuse disorder treatment.
About 70 percent of the 36 substantiated child abuse-related fatalities in Pennsylvania during 2015 were blamed on the victim’s mother, father or both, about the same rate as nationally.