Look at the numbers. Just look at them. Even to an untrained layman, it is more than obvious that there’s a rise in fatalities and near fatalities of children each year – and that the statistics for 2017 were only for the first 5 months of the year! It is also quite clear that each year, CYS is aware of these cases in over half of the families who have had fatalities or near fatalities. They've had active cases, had “successfully” closed cases, or the children had been taken from foster care and reunified with their birth parents, only for those children to wind up dead or severely wounded.
If these numbers aren’t enough to cause some kind of emotional reaction in our communities, then I fear for all of us, not just our kids.
In the 2017 records, 86% of the children who died and 60% of the children who nearly died were under the age of 5 years old. These are children who have not yet entered school. Also in 2017, 74% of children who died and 77% of children who nearly died were under the age of 3… children that CYS themselves determine are too young to self-report, therefore they continue to be harmed until they are hospitalized or they pass away. In fact, just last year, the state of PA put in their own annual statistics that out of the children who died in 2016, 94% of the time, the perpetrator was a parent of that child. For near fatalities, 89% of these cases listed the parent as the perpetrator. These children are with their perpetrators for most, if not all, of their time until they enter school. These very kids may have no other safe person set eyes on them if not the caseworkers in charge of determining their fate.
In 2016, 44,259 reports were made to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the state of Pennsylvania. Of these calls, 37,853 were made by mandated reporters – individuals trained to know the signs of abuse and neglect in children. And out of these calls, CYS determined that only 4,597 of these allegations were substantiated. That means that the other 33,256 calls made by doctors, teachers, day care workers, therapists, nurses, and police officers are deemed to be not severe enough for CYS to even open a case, let alone remove a child from the home. This is despite the fact that 1,952 calls made were cases of repeated abuse. In these cases, even though CYS already knows the family from prior dealings, only 13.6% of these cases of repeated abuse were substantiated and a case was opened.
In addition to the 44,259 CPS reports made in the same year, 151,087 General Protective Services (GPS) reports were made. GPS reports are “those reports that do not rise to the level of suspected child abuse but allege a need for intervention to prevent serious harm to children. The department is responsible for receiving and transmitting reports where GPS concerns are alleged” (page 24 in the dhs.pa.gov 2016 reports). Of those calls, 48% of the reports were screened out and not assessed at all, whereas 21% were validated, requiring CYS to attempt to visit the home at least once. The state provided no information on what happened to the other 31% of calls made to GPS.
However, of the calls that were looked into by Children and Youth Services, they found that the highest percentage of problems in these homes (by more than double) was due to parental substance abuse. This information is increasingly frustrating when you factor in the comment made by a Beaver County CYS worker that if a parent is a “functioning addict and there are no broken bones” they cannot and will not intervene. Knowing that these “functioning addicts” are the biggest reason that children are dying or nearly dying should make that a difficult comment for anyone to wrap their minds around.
Also in 2016, 166,971 calls were made to Childline, the crisis hotline for abused and neglected children. These calls go to the local CYS agency, the local police (who have informed me that they do not receive these reports for at least several weeks after a call has been made), and the District Attorney. Of these calls, 155,911 were answered, 10,957 calls were abandoned (there is no description as to what this means on the government website), and 103 calls were deflected due to not meeting abuse or neglect criteria. Since the state of PA was given $1.811 billion in funding for child welfare services, and since there appears to be such a high number of calls by trained professionals regarding abused and neglected kids, it shocks me that only 13% of this budged was used for investigations into these allegations (this 13% INCLUDES the salaries for personnel that work these investigations).
(As I live and work in the Western Region of PA, this is where my main focus has been. However, if you are interested in looking at the statistics for your own counties, the links to the necessary government websites are listed at the end of this post.)
Fatality and Near Fatality Accounts of 4 core Western Region Counties:
1) 18-month-old female died of serious physical neglect by her mother. Mom was on heroin and morphine which the child ingested because the drugs were left on the bed next to the child. A sibling was then placed with a grandparent. Mom was sentenced only 30-60 months in jail.
Prior history with CYS over 6 years (7 GPS calls made).
2) 2-year-old male nearly died of physical abuse by his maternal uncle. Prior to this, the family had a case with Beaver County CYS where the child was placed in a foster home and then given to the maternal uncle and aunt as a kinship placement. The child was shaken severely because the uncle caught him going through the garbage. This lead to a brain bleed and a seizure. The child and a sibling were placed back with the previous Beaver county foster home.
Both the bio mom AND kinship uncle had previous history with CYS. Mom had reports made on her of sexual abuse, lack of supervision, mental instability, inappropriate discipline, and physical abuse. The uncle’s family had reports made of physical abuse, the oldest 4 of 6 children were acting out sexually, no food or beds, the uncle is an alcoholic, and the aunt has mental health issues).
3) 2-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom’s boyfriend of 2 weeks. He was tossing the baby 4-5 feet in the air and catching her when her head snapped. Baby girl had internal bleeding, 3 rib fractures, bruises on face and butt, and has shaken baby syndrome. Boyfriend is in jail and the baby is in kinship placement awaiting reunification with mom.
The family was previously known to CYS.
4) 2-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom’s ex-boyfriend. Outside in March, the baby was wearing a onesie and a light blanket and ex-boyfriend was reportedly erratically swinging the baby in the car seat from side to side. The male appeared under the influence when police arrived, but he denied using anything and no blood or urine tests were taken. Baby girl was blue and lethargic and had injuries from being violently shaken. She developed seizures, blood clots, and was put on a ventilator. Ex-boyfriend is in jail and child is with bio mom.
Family was not previously known to CYS.
5) 18-month-old near fatality due to physical abuse by babysitter. Investigations seem to point to it being accidental, but the sitter is still being questioned for possible medical neglect.
History of CYS with Mom but not babysitter.
6) 3-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and step-mom. Baby had bone fractures in skull, rib fractures, retinal hemorrhages, and retinal folds – these injuries are believed to have occurred between 7 and 10 days old according to the doctors. Step-mom was arrested and is awaiting trial. Baby and 2 siblings were placed with grandparents before being reunified with mom 2 months later.
History of CYS with mom for deplorable housing conditions and mom throwing things at the children.
7) 23-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by an unknown individual (probably an in-home nurse). Baby was born with multiple health issues and was receiving 16 hours of medical in-home care each day. A non-regular nurse for the child did an 8-hour shift and somehow the child ingested about 1 cup of salt, which her ill body couldn’t process.
The family had no prior CYS contact.
8) 8-year-old male died due to physical abuse and neglect by his mom and her boyfriend. Child was unresponsive and had blood around his mouth, bruising all over his body, severe brain trauma, and hemorrhaging at the brain stem. Boyfriend is in jail awaiting trial and 2 other siblings were placed with grandparents.
Prior CYS history for physical maltreatment. This was apparently unfounded so no services were provided.
9) 6-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mother. Baby had skull fracture, scalp hematoma, multiple brain bleeds, and a seizure. Mom admitted to hitting the baby in the head with a hard plastic bottle and punching his head 5-6 times while frustrated with one of the victim’s 6 siblings. She also body slammed him 2 times. Baby was placed in foster care and mom was placed in the psychiatric unit while she awaits trial. Other siblings were placed in kinship care.
History of CYS due to lack of supervision and maltreatment towards an older sibling. Mom and victim child both tested positive for marijuana at the time of birth as well. CYS couldn’t assess the family because they moved to Ohio. CYS then closed the case with no follow up or forwarding to the Ohio child welfare system.
10) 3-week-old male died due to serious physical abuse by mom. Baby died smothered next to intoxicated/high mother who had passed out on the bed with the newborn. (GPS and CPS reports were already filed due to mom being on drugs and alcohol.) Kinship care was given for other siblings, then they went to a shelter, and then they went to their dad, who also was using drugs and alcohol. Mom was incarcerated for 5 weeks before she was released and sent back to jail for 4 months.
Prior history with CYS for 9 years. GPS reports made for drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, and the oldest two children were previously in foster care. 1 CPS report was made for physical maltreatment, which was unsubstantiated.
11) 17-month-old male died by physical abuse from mom and dad. Mom threatened to harm and kill the baby and 2-year-old because the dad had allegedly had an affair. Mom sent text messages of this to the dad but he didn’t take her threats seriously. Mom then sent text pictures and videos of her harming the children and smothering the baby with a pillow, causing him to die. The 2-year-old was placed with dad until CYS found out he had failed to intervene in the harming of the children. She was then placed with an aunt and is awaiting adoption. Mom was arrested and awaits trial. Dad was arrested and released on bond.
Prior history with CYS and current CYS involvement. 2 GPS reports regarding parental substance abuse and allowing a sex offender to have access to the children – a case was opened briefly and mom was ordered a drug and alcohol assessment but no further actions were deemed necessary.
12) 2-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and dad. Baby ingested methadone and was given Narcan to revive him. It was more methadone than was possible to have been in breastmilk. Baby was placed in foster care, then kinship care. Both parents were in jail and then released awaiting trial.
No prior CYS history.
13) 5-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by male babysitter. Baby had hemorrhaging, bruised chest, and retinal bleeds. Babysitter awaits trial.
Prior CYS with family – 5 GPS reports made between 2013 and 2016 when the baby died. Reports were for domestic violence and an older sibling being grabbed by the father. The father how has a protective order against him and the kids reside with the mom.
14) 2-year-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom. Mother left a bag of suboxone and other medication out on a table while she went to help her other child get ready for school. Baby ate numerous pills and was given Narcan 2 times for survival. Baby was returned home with a safety plan, which mom violated. Kids were sent to an aunt’s house and then to their father. Dad had a prior PFA and was ordered in-home services and batterer’s therapy. Mom awaits trial.
History of CYS – 3 GPS reports in 2015 for physical maltreatment and housing issues.
15) 2-year-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mother. 1 week prior, GPS was made for deplorable housing, little food in the home, and mom was suspected of using heroin and pain pills. Multiple reports were made that the child had bruising on his face and was locked in a room. Police and CYS brought the child to the doctor and he had burn marks on his skin, scratches, bruises, and internal bleeding. Mother admitted to abusing him and he was placed with his grandparents.
History of CYS involvement due to drug use and not caring for the child – the child had a prior skull fracture and torn frenulum in his mouth. CYS followed up for 6 months at the home and then closed the case.
16) 3-month old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and dad. Baby had a skull fracture, hemorrhages, cerebral edema, acute AND healing rib fractures, fractures to both legs, and retinal hemorrhages. These then led to seizures and deep vein thrombosis. She was sent to her grandparent. Mother admitted to shaking the baby while mad at the baby’s dad. Dad didn’t intervene to stop her. Mom was arrested and awaits trial. Dad was not arrested.
History of CYS involvement for physical abuse of her older 6-year-old child.
17) 2-month-old female died due to physical abuse by mom’s boyfriend. Baby had cardiac arrest due to blunt force trauma to the skull. Boyfriend was arrested and awaits trial and the sibling is with the mother.
History of CYS with the family from 2010-2016 – 3 GPS reports and 1 CPS report for inappropriate discipline, substance abuse, deplorable housing, and physical abuse by mom and boyfriend. Mental health evaluations and parenting instructions were offered.
18) 2-year-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by dad. He said the toddler fell down the stairs while mom was at work but the doctors reported that the injuries couldn’t possibly have occurred from that. The baby had hematomas, an inflamed colon, abnormal liver enzymes, retinal hemorrhages, and left arm fracture due to violent shaking. Mom supported dad’s story. The investigation continues.
Prior CYS history for parental drug and alcohol abuse, poor home conditions, lack of supervision and limited food. This was not substantiated, however.
1) Most accounts of fatalities and near fatalities occurred with families known to the CYS workers and were getting services, had been successfully closed out, or abuse couldn’t be substantiated.
Birth parents are given so much leeway that kids are dying or being severely injured while they “work to get themselves together”.
The “services provided” to these families are obviously proving ineffective. (By the way, services are often recommended but cannot be mandated unless the case proceeds to court, which is avoided at all costs, leaving treatment up to the choice of the perpetrator!)
Prior CYS involvement and multiple GPS/CPS reports are being ignored until children die.
2) When children and families change counties or states, cases are often closed and not transferred.
3) Almost all fatalities and near fatalities are by parents.
Therefore, parenting classes and evaluations are not working.
4) Drugs and Alcohol abuse are the highest leading contributor in validated GPS reports (twice the percentage of the next highest contributing factor)!
Drug and alcohol evaluations and classes (again, if they are even mandated) are also not working.
5) The way the state determines successful permanency is through adoption or reunification.
Reunification can be done quickly, but adoption usually takes well over a year.
Statistics from the previous year determine the funds for the coming year.
Caseworkers are told to reunify instead of placing children in foster care or adoption at all costs to show a higher success rate of permanency for the year.
This leads to increased CYS funding instead of a decrease in funds for the following year.
6) Why are so many cases not assessed or screened out since most of the calls are made by mandated reporters who are trained to know the signs of childhood abuse and neglect?
Are these weeded out so that hard cases don’t effect funding?
7) Since many of these death and near death rates can be proven inaccurate (on the low end) by local newspapers and police reports, I would question the integrity of the agencies and workers writing up reports, filing reports, and completing the annual documentation.
And now that you know, what are you going to do about it?
Here are some solutions! First of all, we have to start with our local politicians. Commissioners oversee Children and Youth Services (CYS) and yet they are never notified of these issues. Following up with local DA's (District Attorneys) and the Attorney General are next. Working with your state legislative office to help promote new laws to protect children or change existing laws - and on the state level, we have to find a way to get the state treasurers to re-quantify how "success" is determined for the counties. If we take away the burden of finding permanency for a removed child within the same year, CYS can actually focus more on adoption as an option. But right now, adoptions take longer than a year and reunification doesn't - so they reunify or don't remove children at all in order to not lose their budget (and hence, their jobs) the following year. We also have the option of raising awareness via the news, protests, and getting national attention from sources willing to take on causes like this.
(These reports were divided into 4 quarters over the 2016 year.)