Governor Signs New Strengthened Child Abuse Laws
Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed additional reforms to the state’s child protection laws, building on earlier efforts in December toward significantly strengthening Pennsylvania’s child abuse statutes in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The most recent reforms include a statewide database of child abuse reports and increasing the number of children’s advocacy centers. The database would simplify tracking of child abuse and neglect across the state. Currently, no such system exists.
A bill creating whistleblower protections for those who report child abuse, and strengthened penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse, were also part of the new legislation signed into Law.
The newly expanded package of bills was the result of a November 2012 report from the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection. The General Assembly created the taskforce to study and reform the state’s child abuse protections as a direct result of the Sandusky case.
The most controversial part of the taskforce’s recommendations concerned redesigning mandatory reporting requirements in cases of suspected child abuse.
The definition of abuse, and measures that strengthen law enforcement and child welfare response, have already been implemented. The key to an effective system is the “reporting” requirements that were extended to delineate 14 categories of mandatory reporters. This was not without controversy.
The new requirements affect school employees, staff at child-care and medical facilities, librarians and volunteers who work in youth sports or other activities like church groups, Boy and Girl Scouts or other organized youth activities. The new regulations also included better definitions and descriptions of the mandated reporter categories.
The bottom line is that a mandatory reporter must make contact (report) outside the institution or organization directly to the ChildLine Hotline. No longer will “kicking up the ladder” be sufficient. Also, information acquired second hand (indirectly from another source) would trigger a report.
The biggest roadblock to the new laws was the issue of including attorneys in the expanded categories of mandatory reporters.
The reporting reforms had been stuck for months on the issue of whether to include attorneys on the revamped list of mandated reporters. Client confidentiality and other issues resulted in limiting the category to attorneys who work for a school, church or other organization with responsibility for “the care, guidance, control or supervision of children” as mandated reporters of reports that come to them.
Any changes in mandatory reporting law would take effect Jan. 1, 2015 to permit time for training those affected.