Child Abuse Task Force Report Provides a Roadmap for Reform

'We need to have an honest conversation about child abuse in order to find ways to help prevent it from occurring,' state Rep. Jesse White said.

This week I participated in a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee to receive and review the report of the Task Force on Child Protection we created in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

As someone who has worked in the judicial system as an attorney representing children in juvenile and Children and Youth Services cases, I know there are many areas in the law we can clarify and strengthen to help protect our children.

These are often uncomfortable to discuss, but we need to have an honest conversation about child abuse in order to find ways to help prevent it from occurring. The full report is more than 400 pages long and contains numerous recommendations for the Legislature to enact in the coming months.

Here is a very brief overview of some of changes recommended the Task Force.

Proposed amendments to the Child Protective Services Law include changing the definition of child abuse by eliminating the requirement that the child experience severe pain, eliminate “non-accidental” and replace with “reckless and intentional behavior,” which would include forcibly shaking or slapping a child younger than 1, interfering with the breathing of a child, allowing a child to be present at sites of criminal activities and lowering the threshold from "serious bodily injury" to "bodily injury."

The definition of “sexual abuse” would be broadened to include engaging in sexually explicit conversations and looking at the intimate part of a child or encouraging a child to look at the intimate parts of another person for the purposes of sexual gratification of any party.

The definition of "perpetrator" would be expanded from "a parent, a person responsible for the welfare of a child, an individual residing in the same house or a paramour of a child's parent" to include employees or volunteers who have direct or regular contact with a child as a result of involvement in programs, services or activities such as camps, athletic programs, enrichment programs and scouting troops.

It is suggested that the definition of perpetrator would also be expanded to include possible abuse from school teachers and employees, persons employed in programs, activities or services that include enrichment and other programs, clubs and coaches, any person present in the child's home when the alleged abuse occurred, an individual related to the child by birth, marriage or adoption to the fifth-degree and former paramours of a child's parent and former step-parents.

The Task Force also recommends expanding the list of mandatory reporters, which are people who are obligated to report any suspected child abuse. The Task Force suggests specifically including college administrators and employees, coaches, attorneys, librarians, persons working or volunteering in programs, services or activities if they have an integral role in the program and accept responsibility for children, commercial film processors if child abuse is depicted, persons who repair or service computers or other technology equipment if child abuse isdepicted.

It is also recommended that institutional staff employees and independent contractors must directly report to ChildLine and notify the administrators within the institution and require mandatory reporting of infants born suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Another area of the Task Force report focuses on increased penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse. The report suggests expanding immunity and protection from intimidation and retaliation for good faith reporting, increase the penalty for willful failure to report suspected abuse from a third to a second degree misdemeanor, revoking the professional license of anyone who fails to report suspected child abuse, requiring all professionals who are mandated reporters to report any arrest or conviction to their relevant licensing authority and suggests criminal sanctions for making false reports.

The Task Force report also makes suggestions on improved information sharing, child abuse clearance requirements, education and training for professionals, the development of a comprehensive child protective services database and many other common sense steps we can take to minimize the problem of child abuse in Pennsylvania.

I look forward to reviewing the complete work of the Task Force and hopefully working in a bipartisan way to implementing these recommendations to make Pennsylvania’s children safer.

The full Task Force report can be found at www.childprotection.state.pa.us

Mana January 23, 2013 at 12:23 PM
So you are going to overwhelm CYS with additional cases. Will you be tackling the extreme wait at family court for these parents? How about overworked social workers who don't return calls? How about visitation houses so crowded parents are stepping over each other...
Roger January 23, 2013 at 01:44 PM
Are these ideas part of the "honest conversation?" Reading down through the list, I think all of the ideas are post-event. I could be wrong. Please point out those which have escaped my attention. I think back to last night's news. A mother of twins turned herself in to police after her twins were killed in a house fire last week. She had five children, but left the 3 year old twins at home to fend for themselves, while she went out to buy papers to roll herself marijuana smokes. And, I think she was chasing her 15 year old daughter, because she believed the 15 year old had stolen pot from her purse. No mention was made of a husband or father. Here is a dysfunctional household, one where two children were killed while trying to cook food for themselves. How would any of these proposals curb this kind of situation? The details are not exactly the same, but these reports of dysfunctional households are common on the news. Last week, the news included a story of a boyfriend, who beat his son,leaving the son badly injured. Yesterday's news also had a story of a single woman whose child was found with a swollen face, after waiting two days to report the problem. Common thread: Dysfunctional households. Many absent fathers, many single women with a household full of children with multiple fathers, and the list goes on. While reports from Committees sounds good, the "honest conversation" starts at the individual level, in responsible, stable households.
cecil resident January 23, 2013 at 02:47 PM
You are so right Roger everyday there are new storys this in the paper and on the news and it is so disturbing. In this country people brag about I have x amount of kids to x amount of women or all my kids have different fathers. T V have shows about teen mothers and one that was canceled I have 11 kids to ten women. This may sound a little sappy but can you find one show on TV today that has a household with a mother and a father and the kids are taught lessons so they can deal with real life. The task force is a good thing but it needs to be much broader and the recommendations are all good but we have a lot bigger problem in this country the decline of a stable household.
Mana February 13, 2013 at 01:05 PM
Just greeting back to this and realizing how Jesse White likes his soap box and will NEVER do anything useful for those who he should represent.
Mana February 13, 2013 at 01:07 PM
Stupid auto correct... Should be getting not greeting


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