|By State Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne)
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services recently released a study of child abuse fatal and near-fatal cases in the Commonwealth from 2015-16. The report outlines and analyzes data from these years and makes recommendations to prevent such tragedies in the future.
I was honored to participate in developing this important report as an appointed member of the Statewide Child Fatality and Near Fatality Trend Analysis Team.
The report approaches child abuse as a public health issue that requires collaborative, multidisciplinary partnerships, strengthened prevention efforts and improved ways to identify signs and cases of abuse before a fatality or near-fatality occurs.
The recommendations focus on improvements to review process, strengthened intervention programs, along with legislative and policy changes. The recommendations include:
- The establishment of regional review teams and technical assistance networks to provide greater support that strengthens county fatality and near-fatality review teams.
- The creation of best practice guidelines and tools and enhancing trainings for county review teams.
- The expansion of education on fatality and near-fatality reviews to include the education system, health care providers, law enforcement, and behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment providers.
- Research the effectiveness of existing supports like crisis hotlines, text-lines and social media resources to evaluate if such resources should be expanded.
- Explore an alert system between health care providers and managed care organizations to monitor parent engagement, identify potential cases of abuse, and recognize when a referral is necessary.
- Increase the availability of resources that educate on the signs of abuse and the importance of timely referrals to appropriate services.
- Provide more resources for parents on healthy parenting at all stages of a child’s life.
- Evaluate and enhance policies pertaining to child abuse and neglect investigations, when to consult with a medical professional, and screening guidelines for county children and youth agencies.
- Amend the Child Protective Services Law to allow for enhanced case management to identify potential future abuse and a streamlined review process that creates a more comprehensive assessment.
The implementation of these recommendations will be considered and coordinated between other state agencies, the General Assembly, and partners in local government and law enforcement with assistance from advocates and stakeholders in child welfare, health care, education and behavioral health fields. The recommendations will then be monitored and evaluated as they are implemented for effectiveness in reducing future fatalities and near fatalities.
As vice-chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee, I look forward to reviewing the policy changes recommended in the report. We all share the same goal – to ensure that children in Pennsylvania can grow up in safe, nurturing homes.
The Pennsylvania Child Abuse Fatality/Near Fatality Trend Analysis Report is available for review at www.dhs.pa.gov
Representative Tarah Toohil
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Rep. Toohil’s Office