Corbett's budget includes $12m to curb child abuse

It's a tiny line item in the giant Pennsylvania state budget.

But the inclusion of $12 million in state aid for child protection services is priceless to those who need it.

Gov. Corbett's proposed 2014-2015 budget includes for the first time $2 million to help fund Children's Advocacy Centers and $10 million to create a database that will help track reports of abuse and abuse cases.

The inclusion of the new funds is a result of a series of recommendations from a task force formed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Expanding the number of centers - now currently in only 23 of 67 counties -  was among the recommendations included in the 2012 report of the Task Force on Child Protection.

(Delaware County is the only county in the southeast without a child advocacy center but it is considering starting one.)

Child advocate Cathleen Palm applauded the funding proposal but said it is long overdue.

"The budget promotes healing for a child by dedicating funding for the first time ever to children’s advocacy centers,".said Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, who along with others has been working since 2004 to create dedicated funding for the centers.

The Corbett proposals are just the latest development a larger overhaul of child abuse laws that followed the arrest and conviction of the former Penn State assistant football coach on charges of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Among the changes in state law is the definition of "child abuse" itself and expanding the list of those who must report suspected child abuse.

Child advocacy centers, which also provide medical treatment and counseling, historically have relied on federal grants, county funding and donations, despite the fact they play a critical role in investigating child abuse cases.

The centers employ a trained forensic interviewer who questions the child while a team of professionals from other disciplines monitor the interview in another room. The interview is taped so the child does not have to endure further questioning.

The proposed budget also includes nearly $10 million to set up a central database to track and measure how children are protected.

Palm points out that at least 175 Pennsylvania children died between 2008 and 2012 due to child maltreatment, and of those, 135 or (77%) were 3 years old or younger.  After they died and reviews of their life/death circumstances were examined, it was discovered that 69 (more than 50%) of the 135 children (3 or younger) were active with or in a family previously known to some children and youth agency in the state. 

She said that makes it clear that prior reports matter.

"Knowing as much as we can about these prior reports can be the difference between life and death for so many kids," Palm said.

Palm says with nearly $2 billion spent on child welfare each year, it is "amazing in terms of child safety" that the state hasn’t kept data, especially with greater pressures for accountability of public dollars.

"The state provides services to thousaands of kids and don't track the cases," she said. "Sometimes kids die or nearly die because big pieces of information are missing."

Palm said the absence of reliable data is what has contributed to Pennsylvania status as a statistical outlier that gives it an suspiciously low victim rate. 

In 2012, Pennsylvania investigated child abuse reports at a rate of 8.6 per 1,000 children compared to the national rate of 42.7 per 1,000 children.  In that same year, the child victim rate nationally was 9.2 per 1,000 children.  The lowest rate of child victims in 2012 was recorded in Pennsylvania at a rate of 1.2 per 1,000 children.

"We have thousands of children who intersect with our child welfare system that are never captured in our state statistics about cases that are “investigated or assessed” or those cases where it wasn’t determined to be child abuse but the child received a pathway to services," she said.

Palm said the Corbett budget requests are "a testament to the fact people on front lines for first time finally been heard."







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