Senate Passes Sweeping Update of Child Protection Laws

HARRISBURG – The state Senate approved a series of bills to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, according to Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), who sponsored one of the measures. The bipartisan package is based on recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

“The Task Force on Child Protection had a tough and serious mission,” Baker said. “They came up with recommendations that address the shortcomings and weaknesses in state laws designed to protect our children and punish those who violate morality or fail to act on instinct and obligation.  These are not laws in which we can tolerate loopholes.”

Baker’s Bill, Senate Bill 23, updates the definition of “perpetrator” and expands the definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare.” The definition differentiates between acts of commission and acts of omission.

“This bill is a crucial piece in the effort to provide laws sufficient to deal with the scope of abuse we confront in society today,” said Baker.  “Law enforcement and protection officials must have full power and ability to investigate, charge, prosecute, convict, and sentence those guilty of evil acts of child abuse.

“We find it necessary to broaden state law to cover the range of individuals holding positions of responsibility or places of trust who commit abuse, be it the cousin or the coach or the cleric or the caretaker or the cohabitator,” she added.  “And we find it necessary to cover those who inexplicably fail to prevent or stop abuse.”

Other bills in the package include:

Senate Bill 20
Updates the definition of “child abuse” and provides exclusions. Requires a county solicitor to make the initial confirmation of an “indicated report” of child abuse before being placed on DPW’s Childline registry, which is confidential and only accessible by law enforcement for future review in the event of another indicated report.

Senate Bill 21
Clarifies who is a “mandatory reporter” of child abuse. Mandatory reporters include licensed health care practitioners school administrators, teachers, or other school employees, child care services providers, religious leaders, social services workers, and employees or volunteers with direct child contact in the course of their employment.

Senate Bill 22
Increases the penalty for failure to report child abuse by a mandatory reporter to a second-degree misdemeanor.  Three new offenses are added, including intentionally interfering with the making of a report or referral of child abuse (first-degree misdemeanor), concealing child abuse to protect its’ discovery (third-degree felony) and willful failure to report while the individual has reasonable cause to believe a child is actively being abused (third-degree felony).

Senate Bill 27
Improves the exchange of information among medical practitioners and county agencies by requiring immediate reports and by allowing for follow-up reports to medical practitioners regarding the condition of the child.

Senate Bill 30
Establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals working with delinquent children, and provides for penalties for making false reports of child abuse.
“Over the years the number of false claims of child abuse against staff who work with delinquent children and students in juvenile detention and private residential facilities has increased, and the appeals can take an average of 18 months to conclude” said Senator Ted Erickson (R-26) sponsor of the bill. “My legislation will establish specific timelines for appeals for indicated cases of child abuse. It will also contain provisions to establish a subfile within the State Registry of those who have been found guilty of intentionally filing a false report, along with the name of the child involved in the report.”

Senate Bill 31
Requires school employees to report any type of suspected child abuse committed by a school employee against a student.

Senate Bill 33
Provides employee whistleblower protection for anyone who properly and in good faith reports suspected child abuse.

CONTACT:

Jen Wilson
(570) 675-3931
jwilson@pasen.gov


 Senator Lisa Baker

Floor Remarks – Perpetrators of Abuse

The more that we learn about the circumstances of abuse cases that are constantly coming to light, the more appalling and heartrending the terrible truth becomes.  So many individuals – too many – misuse their presumption of goodness to prey upon the innocent and the vulnerable and the confused among our young.

The Task Force on Child Protection had a tough and serious mission.  They came up with recommendations that address the shortcomings and weaknesses in state laws designed to protect our children and punish those who violate morality or fail to act on instinct and obligation.  These are not laws in which we can tolerate loopholes.

This bill, built on one of their recommendations, is fundamental to strengthening child protection.

We find it necessary to broaden state law to cover the range of individuals holding positions of responsibility or places of trust who commit abuse, be it the cousin or the coach or the cleric or the caretaker or the cohabitator.  And we find it necessary to cover those who inexplicably fail to prevent or stop abuse.

This bill is not as complicated or as lengthy as other pieces in the package.  But it is a crucial piece in the effort to provide laws sufficient to deal with the scope of abuse we confront in society today.  Law enforcement and protection officials must have full power and ability to investigate, charge, prosecute, convict, and sentence those guilty of evil acts of child abuse.