General Assembly Must Pass Child Abuse Reform Bill Quickly, Fontana Says
The bill, introduced by Sen. Fontana, aims to streamline the process of reporting child abuse.
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 2012. The mission of the task force was to review the state’s child protection laws and procedures. After months of testimony throughout the state by various advocacy groups and professionals who deal with child abuse on a daily basis, the task force released their recommendations in November 2012.
At a press conference on Tuesday, a bipartisan package of bills was introduced that provide for sweeping reform by updating Pennsylvania’s child protection laws based on recommendations by the taskforce.
My longtime proposal, now Senate Bill 31 (SB 31), was part of the task force’s recommendations to update Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. This legislation is long overdue and goes a long way to protect the health and safety of our school-age youth.
Currently, if there is a case of suspected child abuse in which the alleged perpetrator is a school employee, there is no requirement to report that abuse unless it rises to the level of a "serious bodily injury." A "serious bodily injury" is equivalent to the loss of a limb or an organ that stops functioning, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation. SB 31 would require the same reporting of child abuse regardless of whether the perpetrator is a school employee.
Furthermore, under the Child Protection Law, current school employees are only required to report such incidents to their supervisors who then may decide whether it rises to a level of reporting it to ChildLine or to law enforcement. ChildLine is a program within the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare that accepts calls from the public which provides information, counseling, and referral services for authorities or victims of abuse.
SB 31 would remove the different reporting requirement for school employees and put them on the same level as other mandated reporters. Mandatory reporters have to report the incident directly to ChildLine or the police. School employees would still report to their supervisors as well, but this is for the sole purpose of keeping the school administrator informed of such incidents of child abuse. School employees also include those of institutions of higher education under SB 31.
I have introduced a form of this bill since 2005 and have worked with stakeholders and taken the recommendations of the task force to further improve upon the measure.
Child abuse is a serious issue and the recent incidents throughout Pennsylvania have provided the General Assembly, with the help of the task force, the opportunity to implement comprehensive reform that will improve child protection and initiate investigations of reported abuse more quickly. It’s imperative for the General Assembly to quickly pass SB 31 as well as all of the other pieces of legislation introduced under this package of child abuse reform.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District