As a response to the Jerry Sandusky and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia child abuse scandals, the Pennsylvania General Assembly created a Task Force on Child Protection in January to review the state’s child protection laws and procedures. After months of testimonies throughout the state being given by various advocate groups and professionals who deal with child abuse on a daily basis, the task force released their recommendations on Nov. 27.
The following is a brief outline of suggestions by the task force:
- Eliminate certain restricting language in the definition of “child abuse” and replace it with more broad language to cover a wider spectrum of what constitutes child abuse.
- Expand the definition of perpetrator to include employees/volunteers who have direct or regular contact with a child, school teachers and employees, any person present in the child’s home to name a few.
- Expand the list of mandatory reporters to include coaches, attorneys, librarians, persons working or volunteering in programs that have ties to children, etc.
- Increase the penalties for failure to report child abuse.
- Upgrade the child protective services and general protective services reports database.
- Require child abuse clearances to be renewed every 24 months as well as require certain volunteers to obtain clearances before working with children.
- Enhance abuse training and education for individuals working with children
- Dedicate state funding for multidisciplinary investigative teams/children’s advocacy centers.
- Enhance ChildLine—a public 1-800 number that takes calls to report suspected child abuse—by upgrading staff qualification and training, creation of a easy three-digit number similar to “911,” hiring additional staff to keep up with the daily call volume coming in so that there is no wait to talk to a professional.
To view the Task Force on Child Protection’s entire report, please click on the following link:
Early in 2011, I introduced Senate Bill 549 (SB 549) that would require school employees to report suspected abuse to both school authorities and law enforcement immediately so that the discretion of the school is removed. During the 2011-12 session, my legislation had over 35 co-sponsors and clearly shows bipartisan support, yet SB 549 never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SB 549 was nothing new. I have introduced a form of this bill since 2005 and over the past few years, I have tweaked the legislation as I continued to work with stakeholders to improve the measure to meet their suggestions and recommendations. Furthermore, in May, I sent a request to Chairman Heckler asking him to speak on the need for my legislation in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, my request was denied.
Why must a taskforce have to suggest a measure like my bill created in order for the legislation to pass the General Assembly?
Action on SB 549 has long been overdue and I can only hope that with the release of the recommendations of the task force we can move forward quickly in bipartisan manner in the new year with child protection laws. The time is now to protect children from abuse and it can start with you. If you suspect child abuse, please report it by calling ChildLine’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-932-0313. Professionals are available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District