Harrisburg – The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), approved a series of bills to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.
The measures were sent to the full Senate for consideration.
“Pennsylvania’s child protection laws are long overdue for review and update. We’ve learned from the work of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection and from hearing testimony what needs to be done, and today is an important step in this critical process,” said Mensch.
The committee approved the following bills:
- Senate Bill 20 Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-4), Sen. Kim Ward (R-39) Updates the definition of “child abuse” and provides exclusions.
“Before we can punish child abusers and help the victims, we must know what child abuse is,” Senator Washington said. “Senate Bill 20 provides a clear, commonsense guide to what is and is not child abuse, while still allowing parents to parent. As Democratic Chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee – and a survivor of child abuse – I could not be more proud to put my name on this important legislation and to be a part of this effort to save so many children from harm.”
- Senate Bill 21 Sen. Kim Ward (R-39), Sen. John Blake (D-22) Clarifies who is a “mandatory reporter” of child abuse.
- Senate Bill 22 Sen. Kim Ward (R-39), Sen. Tim Solobay (D-46) Increases penalties for failure to report child abuse.
“A massive overhaul of our child protective services law was long overdue,” Senator Ward said. “I am particularly pleased to offer Senate Bill 21 as it contains a key clarification as to who is a mandated reporter. In the past, there were instances where child abuse was overlooked or not reported to the authorities because the old law was confusing. My legislation should clear up any doubt as to who needs to report and when they are required to do so.”
“The enhanced penalties of failing to report child abuse under Senate Bill 22 should also serve as a reminder to mandated reporters that they can no longer shirk their duty to report without serious consequences,” Senator Ward continued. “We cannot and will not allow children to continue to slip through the cracks.”
- Senate Bill 23 Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-2) Updates the definition of “perpetrator” and expands definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare.”
“By expanding the definition of a child abuse perpetrator, we can increase the number of vulnerable children protected from harm, and help more children who have already been harmed,” Senator Baker said. “This legislation will give child welfare workers the tools they need to keep offenders away from innocent children and to hold abusers liable for their crimes.”
- Senate Bill 27 Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), Sen. Mike Stack (D-5) Improves the exchange of information among medical practitioners and county agencies.
- Senate Bill 30 Sen. Ted Erickson (R-26), Sen. Richard Kasunic (D-32) Establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals working with delinquent children in juvenile detention facilities and residential rehabilitative institutions.
“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,” Senator Erickson said. “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 33 Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), Sen. Jim Brewster (D-45) Provides employee whistleblower protection for child abuse reporting.
“My bills aim to improve the exchange of information from the point when someone first suspects child abuse through the time when an investigation is in progress,” said Mensch. “It became clear from expert testimony that more children could be protected if there was better coordination between agencies, and legal protections for those citizens who come forward to report abuse.”
The bills are part of a bipartisan package of legislation introduced following the 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.