HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Monitoring and preventing child abuse is of paramount importance to child welfare agencies. But staffing shortages within the industry are worrying many experts.

Child abuse reports fell in 2020, but claims are back on the rise now. “We saw a pretty big decline in terms of the reports into the system. But we don’t think that was necessarily a good thing,” said Kari King, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC).

Some experts think that coming out of strict COVID-19 rules and regulations could be playing a part in the increased reports.

“I think the increase can really point back to the kids coming out of the lockdown. You know, they are seen by those mandated reporters more frequently,” said King.

The number of Child Protective Services (CPS) reports in 2021 was up nearly 15% when compared to 2020.

This is a problem for agencies like CPS; The Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children says CPS is having a hard time keeping up with the influx of reports.

“There’s a decline in the substantiation rates. We think that might mean that caseworkers simply don’t have as much time, they’re overburdened. These are very stressful jobs, we see a lot of issues around retention and recruitment in these positions,” King added.

The staffing issues are not limited to the state level either. In Pennsylvania, child welfare systems are operated by each county, and many are severely understaffed right now.

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Perry and Cumberland Counties claimed they are missing approximately 30% of their workforce currently. York County said they were missing closer to 50%.

“I think there’s a few solutions to really address the concerns that are raised in the data,” King said.

Agencies are looking to solve the staffing problem by increasing recruitment and raising pay.

“I also think we need to look again at how we’re really providing services for families that are supporting them. And I don’t think we’re doing an adequate job right now, with those resources to make sure that again, kids are not entering that Child Welfare System,” King concluded.

Despite short staffing, child welfare agencies want to remind everyone to always file reports of child abuse.