A fatality or near fatality of a child under suspicious circumstances often impacts the wider community, with everyone left wondering what could have been done differently to prevent the untimely death of a child.
By law, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is required to review circumstances surrounding cases where suspected child abuse may have occurred. To help the community better understand what led to the death and to help initiate a discussion on how Pennsylvanians can help prevent future deaths, review team reports are posted by the year in which the initial referral was received.
The department has also started posting an initial notification of incidents that ChildLine has been notified of since Jan.1, 2016. PLEASE NOTE: At the time of the initial notification of the incident, the suspected child abuse is not confirmed. If a report is substantiated, that information is reported in quarterly summaries by the date of substantiation posted on the Quarterly Summaries of Child Fatalities/Near Fatalities page. It is statutorily required that investigation outcomes be redacted from review team reports (posted by year via links on the right side of this page).
Upon receipt of a child abuse referral involving a fatality or near fatality, two types of reviews are immediately initiated:
► The first level of review occurs at the local level in accordance with an established protocol and involves the county agency convening a team broadly representative of the community, consisting of at least six individuals who have expertise in prevention and treatment of child abuse. These teams are to be convened in the county where the suspected abuse occurred and in any county, or counties, where the child resided within the preceding 16 months. County Child Abuse Fatality and Near Fatality Review Teams are required to review cases when it has been determined that abuse occurred, or when a final status determination has not been made within 30 calendar days from the date of the report to ChildLine. County teams are required to complete their report within 90 days of convening the county review team.
► The department is responsible for conducting the second level of review for all child fatalities and near fatalities when abuse is suspected, regardless of the status determination. This means that both substantiated and unfounded cases will be reviewed. The department has also convened a Statewide Child Fatality and Near Fatality Trend Analysis Team consisting of cross-system partners and external stakeholders for the purpose of determining the contributing factors and symptoms of abuse and responses that may prevent similar future occurrences. These reviews seek to identify areas that require systemic change in order to improve the delivery of services to children and families, which will ultimately enhance the commonwealth’s ability to protect children.
In 2016, the department began posting the gender and age of a child within one week of receiving a fatality or near fatality report at ChildLine. Additionally, the department provides the date of the report, whether it involved a fatality or a near fatality, and the county that will be convening the County Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Team. This information is as of the date the report was received by ChildLine and is subject to change upon investigation. If a report is decertified, that will be identified with the initial notification. Reports are decertified when the certifying physician confirms the report was made in error, and either a child was not in serious or critical condition or an abusive act was not suspected in causing the child’s condition.
Upon completion of the department’s review, the final redacted report is posted with the initial corresponding information unless the district attorney certifies that the release of the report may compromise a pending criminal investigation or proceeding. After verification from the district attorney that there is no longer a certification barring the report’s release, the department’s redacted report will be posted to facilitate the release of information to the public.
Some information is redacted from reports as it is protected by privacy laws, most notably medical information protected by the federal HIPAA law. These redacted reports are available to the public and do not require a Right to Know Law request. Unredacted reports are confidential under the provisions of the Child Protective Services Law and cannot be released to the public pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S. Section 6340.
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