Since expanded child-abuse laws went into effect Jan. 1, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services has seen an expected but intense increase in calls, cases and investigations, officials said Wednesday.
Commissioner Vanessa Garrett Harley testified at a budget hearing about the spikes. Among her findings:
Hotline calls increased 68 percent when comparing February 2014 to February 2015.
Investigations went up 13 percent between 2014 and 2015.
The total number of active cases is up 46 percent when comparing February 2014 to February 2015.
Harley attributed the increases to stricter child-abuse laws - detailed in more than two dozen pieces of legislation - and instituted after the investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Among other changes, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection expanded the definition of child abuse, made clear who is a mandatory reporter, and updated record-keeping requirements.
"Not just in Philadelphia, across the state, departments have had to cover more investigations," Harley said during the hearing. "Before, if a teacher saw something, they'd go through the counselor and then the principal, but now [the law] mandates the teacher go straight" to DHS.
Harley said Philadelphia's foster system is much larger today, with 5,300 children in care compared with 4,500 last year. Given the influx, there is a need for more foster parents. The goal of the department is to prioritize foster placements over group homes, she said.
"We're trying to get more kids in family life settings, foster care or kinship care. We believe they do better overall to be with a family," she said.
Despite the increase, the department's proposed budget for 2016 has stayed largely the same as this year's at $102.7 million. Harley said DHS is still monitoring the potential fiscal impact of the growth.