Annual State of Child Welfare in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPFC) released their 12th annual State of Child Welfare report, which raises concerns about the need to strengthen the child welfare system as it uses data from 2020 – only the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – that shows decreases in child protective services reporting and the number of children placed in foster care statewide.

In 2020 there were 32,919 CPS reports, which was a 22% decline in reports from 2019, but the substantiation of reports was the highest in the last five years, with 14% of reports being investigated and found to be true. Notably, stay-at-home orders, moving to virtual learning, and less contact with medical professionals created a significant decrease in mandated reporting trends during the year for which the most recent data is available.

While substantiation rates did increase, data from 2021 will be significant to see how trends shift as schools resumed in-person instruction. There was subsequently more interaction between mandated reporters, such as teachers, with children and families. We anticipate the 2021 data will show an increase in referrals and a potential decrease in substantiation as the system struggles to respond to the needs of children experiencing abuse and neglect during an unprecedented time of crisis.

In 2020, 21,689 children were served in the Pennsylvania foster care system, a 12% decrease in the total population from the prior year.

With overall reductions in placement, one could assume this translates to better interventions on the front-end of an investigation and correspondingly stabilizes families. However, when we look at the totality of the data from the start of an investigation through placement, the overall reduction correlates to the challenges we know were present due to the pandemic. Again, fewer referrals being made by mandated reporters means fewer occasions to identify abuse leading to placement.

See the complete list of policy recommendations in the 2021 State of Child Welfare: Navigating the Uncertainty of the Pandemic to Strengthen the System: