Child-abuse reports are continuing an upsurge in Chester County that dates back to 2015, said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.
“With the change in Pennsylvania laws regarding mandatory reporting of child abuse after the [Jerry] Sandusky case, we expected to see an increase in child- abuse reports,” Hogan said in a press release. “This spike mirrors increases across the Commonwealth. More cases are being reported, and the District Attorney’s Child Abuse Unit has grown in size and sophistication in order to address the new caseload.”
The District Attorney’s Child Abuse Unit receives reports from multiple agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families. The yearly total of child-abuse reports in Chester County hit 219 in 2012, 291 in 2013, 414 in 2014, 1,306 in 2015, and 1,681 in 2016 – an eightfold increase over five years, the release said.
The increase has produced a greater workload for the Child Abuse Unit and the local police departments. When a report of serious child abuse occurs, the child victims are typically interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center in the District Attorney’s Office, a safe location specifically designed to be kid-friendly. Forensic interviewers, detectives who are specially trained to deal with children, conduct the interviews.
The number of forensic interviews of children conducted in Chester County also increased significantly, from 233 in 2014 to 358 in 2016, according to the release.
To address the additional work, the District Attorney’s Office has added staff. In 2013, two prosecutors and two detectives (one investigator and one supervisor) were assigned to the DA’s Child Abuse Unit. As of 2017, the Child Abuse Unit has four prosecutors and four detectives (three investigators and one supervisor) assigned, effectively doubling in size. The Chester County Commissioners previously authorized hiring an extra detective specifically to address child-abuse cases, the release said.
“As the District Attorney has noted, we expected to see an increase in reports of child abuse because of the change in state laws, but those expectations don’t make it any easier when we see the actual numbers,” Michelle Kichline, chair of the Chester County Commissioners, said in the release. “One of the main priorities of the Board of Commissioners is public safety, especially the safety of our children. I thank the DA and his staff for prioritizing their resources and doing everything that they can to protect the children during the grueling and emotional – but necessary – process of investigation and prosecution.”
The rise in the number of reports also has led to a rise in the number of child-abuse prosecutions, complex cases that are always traumatic for the child victims, who are forced to re-live their abuse in court.
Hogan said that in talking to colleagues around Pennsylvania, who already are overwhelmed by the heroin and opioid epidemic, he realized that Chester County is fortunate to have leaders and resources committed to addressing the problem.
“Even one child being hurt is one too many, and no child predator should be allowed to roam the streets,” he said in the release.