Are You a “Mandated Reporter” of Child Abuse?
The allegations of child sexual abuse involving Jerry Sandusky, retired defensive coach for Penn State’s football team, and the fact that the university took no action following reports of abuse, has focused national attention on not just Penn State, but on child abuse, and specifically, the duty to report suspected child abuse. Sandusky, who maintains his innocence, now faces more than 50 criminal charges stemming from alleged child sexual abuse of several children and which led to the firing of university president Graham Spanier and the late, revered coach Joe Paterno.
All states have laws requiring adults to report suspected child abuse. However, there are significant differences as to who is required to report and what, if any, consequences there might be for failing to report. Despite differences of opinion on the Penn State scandal, it has focused attention on the reality of child sexual abuse and the fact that PA needs to do more to protect its children. Only 18 states require all adults to report suspected child abuse. In PA, one of the 32 states that limits who is required to report suspected abuse, that duty is currently limited to certain professionals who come into contact with children in the course of their employment or profession. These “mandated reporters” include:
- Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care professionals
- Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals
- School teachers and administrators
- Social workers, daycare and foster care workers
- Law enforcement officers and officials
- Members of the clergy
The current PA Child Protective Services Law (“Law”) was enacted in 1990, repealing an earlier statute. The Law addressed the reporting of suspected child abuse, the procedure by which to make a report and those persons responsible for making the reports. Amendments were made to this law in 1994 and 2006. Some of the changes included requiring for the first time that school employees and administrators of public and private schools make reports to law enforcement authorities of school employees who were suspected of child abuse. In addition school employment applicants are now required to submit a Child Abuse Clearance from the Dept. of Public Welfare. Other amendments expanded the definition of child abuse that must be reported and also required that abuse by anyone, not just those living in the home with the child, be reported. The Law also provides civil and criminal immunity for mandated reporters.
What is “child abuse?”
The Child Protective Services Law defines abuse as any of the following:
- The act or failure to act by a perpetrator that causes non-accidental serious physical injury to a child under 18 years of age.
- The act or failure to act by a perpetrator that causes non-accidental serious mental injury or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age.
- The act, failure to act, or series of acts or failures by a perpetrator that creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age.
- Serious physical neglect by a perpetrator constituting prolonged or repeated lack of supervision or the failure to provide essentials of life, including adequate medical care, which endangers a child’s life or development or impairs the child’s functioning.
The law defines perpetrator as:
A person who has committed child abuse and is a parent of a child, a person responsible for the welfare of a child, an individual residing in the same home as a child or a paramour of a child’s parent.
When the suspected abuser is any of these individuals, then mandated reporters must immediately report the suspected abuse to Childline which is an organizational unit of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) that operates a statewide toll-free number. Written reports must be made within 48 hours after the oral report. In addition to mandated reporters, any person who has a good faith belief of suspected child abuse can report to DPW by calling Childline at 1-800-932-0313.
How Widespread is the Problem?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics indicate that child sexual abuse is a national public health epidemic. An estimated one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually molested before the age of 18. In PA alone, we have more than 3.1 million victims. These statistics indicate that a child has a greater chance of being the victim of sexual molestation than of being in a car accident or breaking a bone. 90% of victims know their offenders and 90% will never disclose their abuse. The reasons for that silence are complex and disturbing, but the new attention to this issue has encouraged more victims to come forward and has lawmakers focusing on broadening the reporting requirements as well as other laws related to child abuse.
What is Being Done?
In December, Governor Tom Corbett signed a long-standing bill into law which requires transient and out-of-state sexual offenders to register with the police. It also brings PA into compliance with federal requirements for tracking and monitoring sex offenders between states and making that information more readily available. The bill also broadens the definition of who can be criminally charged with institutional sexual assault.
On a national level, members of Congress, including PA Senator Bob Casey, have introduced bills to toughen child protection laws. Casey’s bill, the “Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act” would require all states to enact mandatory reporting laws for all adults or face loss of federal funding. Nevertheless, even child welfare advocates recognize that mandatory reporting laws carry a financial burden on the agencies that must investigate claims of child abuse. Most states that have mandatory reporting laws allow anonymous reporting by adults who do not have a professional responsibility to report. Mandatory reporting can increase the number of unfounded reports given that abuse may be hard to recognize by untrained observers. Anonymity can also lead to harassment-based or frivolous reports. All of these reports would require investigations that are costly and, moreover, traumatic for the child and the family. The problem remains, however, as to whether sanctions will be imposed on those who do not report. Prior to the Penn State case, PA court records show that charges were only filed against mandatory reporters on three occasions for failure to report abuse. The greatest penalty was a $375 fine. In 2005 York School District pleaded “no contest” to a failure to report abuse and paid a $300 fine.
The Task Force.
In November 2011, on the same day that Jerry Sandusky was charged with criminal child abuse, the PA General Assembly passed a resolution to appoint a Task Force on Child Protection to review PA’s laws and policies on child abuse, the reporting of abuse and to make recommendations to improve the system. On January 10, 2012, Governor Tom Corbett announced the names of the task force panel appointed by the governor and the legislature. The ten members of the Task Force are:
- Hon. David W. Heckler, Bucks County District Attorney (Chairman)
- William Strickland, President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation
- Dr. Cindy W. Christian, Director of Safeplace: The Center for Child Protection and Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Delilah Rumburg, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and The National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- Dr. Rachel Berger, Member of Child Protection Team at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
- Garrison Ipock, Jr., Executive Director, The Glen Mills Schools, Glen Mills
- Carol Hobbs-Picciotto, MHS, Intake Social Worker, City of Philadelphia
- Hon. Arthur Grim, Senior Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Berks County
- Jason Kutalakis, Senior Partner, Abom & Kutalakis LLP, Carlisle
- Jackie Bernard, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Blair County
The Task Force has until November 30, 2012 to issue its final report to the Governor and the legislature.
Information regarding child sexual abuse is featured in this month's episode
of OWM Legal Talk. Psychologist Dr. Lori Stauffer (hope4families.com) joins
OWM Law in discussing child sexual abuse: how to recognize and report suspected
abuse and proposed changes to child protection laws (Part 1 of 2 Part Program).
The March espisode will continue with Dr. Stauffer discussing educating and
empowering children. The Legal Talk programs can be viewed on our website at www.owmlaw.com/legal_talk/legal_talk.php.
Megay, Esq., speaking at Owen J. Roberts Adult Education:
• 3/21/12 - Real Estate-Selling Your Home
• 4/11/12 - Starting Your Own Business
(contact Owen J. Roberts Adult Education at 610-469-5830).
Read Legal Ease every other Sunday in the Pottstown Mercury.
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