Child Protection Legislation Overview

Strengthening the Definition of “Child Abuse”
    
In seeking to update the way “child abuse” is defined in Pennsylvania, the bill lowers the injury threshold for what is considered physical abuse, allow certain grooming activities to be considered sexual abuse, and include a variety of abusive behaviors that cannot be substantiated as “child abuse” under current law.  The bill also includes a list of exceptions to exempt non-abusive conduct and puts in place a number of safeguards and due process protection in child abuse cases.  (House Bill 726 – Petri) Status: Signed into law.

This bill defines the term of “perpetrator” (who are subject to a child welfare investigation for child abuse, as opposed to a law enforcement-only investigation) and establishes the procedure to remove certain juvenile perpetrators from the child abuse registry. (Senate Bill 23 – L. Baker) Status: Signed into law.

Making the Abusers Pay the Price

This bill increases penalties for luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure. (House Bill 1594 – Regan) Status: Signed into law.

This bill establishes specific guidelines to punish athletic coaches, trainers or other sports officials who have sex with a child-athlete who is under 18 years old. The bill creates the offense of “sexual assault by a sports official,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. (House Bill 112 – Vereb) Status: Signed into law

This bill establishes a sentencing enhancement for the offense of child pornography. (House Bill 321 – Toepel) Status: Signed into law.

This bill makes it a crime to falsely report child abuse punishable by a maximum penalty of two years in jail or a $5,000 fine, and makes it a crime to intimidate, retaliate or obstruct child abuse cases. (Senate Bill 28 – Browne) Status: Signed into law.

Improving Child Abuse Reporting

This bill establishes a timeframe for expedited appeals of indicated child abuse reports. (Senate Bill 30 – Erickson) Status: Signed into law.

This bill broadens the scope of mandated reporters (those required by law to report suspected child abuse) and the basis on which they are required to report suspected abuse. The legislation also makes changes to several provisions on the reporting procedure (such as chain-of-command reporting , etc.) and specifies it can be done electronically. Also includes language on informational resources about child abuse reporting to be included on DPW’s website, and notices of the resources to recipients of ChildLine clearance statements. (Senate Bill 21 – Ward) Status: Signed into law.

This bill allows for the electronic reporting of suspected child abuse; clarifies the responsibility for investigation of suspected child abuse; requires cooperation in conducting an investigation or assessing risk to a child from Commonwealth agencies, political subdivisions, county agencies or  those providing services under the county plan and also school districts; and provides for disposition  of reports. (Senate Bill 24 – Vulakovich) Status: Signed into law.

This bill strengthens and clarifies the requirements for both health care providers and county Children and Youth agencies with regard to the mandatory reporting and investigation of infants identified as being affected by the mother’s illegal substance abuse. (Senate Bill 29 – Vance) Status: Signed into law.

This bill extends whistleblower protection for employees who make reports of suspected child abuse to all those who make such reports, not just mandated reporters. (Senate Bill 33 – Mensch) Status: Signed into law.

This legislation upgrades the penalties for mandated reporters who fail to report, including a felony charge for mandated reporters who witness the most serious child abuse and still fail to report. (House Bill 436 – Stephens) Status: Signed into law.

Mandated reporters would be required to receive training on child abuse recognition and reporting.  While school employees must receive this training under current law, legislation would ensure that other groups of mandated reporters (doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, child care workers, etc.) would be properly trained to report suspected child abuse.  (House Bill 431– Gingrich) Status: Signed into law.

Parents would be required to report the disappearance of their child within 24 hours.  Safeguards are included in the legislation to ensure parents will not be prosecuted for an innocent mistake, for example, a divorced parent who may not have the knowledge of their child’s whereabouts. (House Bill 494 – Boback) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

A new criminal offense would be created for intimidating or retaliating against someone for reporting suspected child abuse. (House Bill 404 – Marsico) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

Protecting Children from Abuse by School Employees

The separate child abuse standards and reporting procedures that apply when a school employee is suspected of child abuse would be eliminated.  School employees would be held to the same standards as parents, child care workers and others when it comes to abusing a child. (House Bill 434 – Maloney) Status: Signed into law.

Requiring thorough employment history reviews prior to offering employment to any applicant for a position involving direct contact with children seeks to prevent the hire of teachers who have been accused of abuse. This will help prevent the practice of “passing the trash,” which occurs when a school employee accused of abuse quietly resigns and then gains employment at another school. (House Bill 2063 – Maloney) Status: In Senate Education Committee.

The Professional Educator Discipline Act would be modernized and strengthened to more easily remove the certification of a school employee who abuses a child.  (House Bill 930 – O’Neill) Status: In Senate Education Committee.

Expanding Due Process Protections for Those Wrongly Accused of Abuse

This bill establishes due process protections for those who are subjected to unfounded reports, and requires a child abuse investigation to include an interview with the alleged perpetrator whenever reasonably possible. Also makes changes regarding multi-disciplinary investigations (those involving Children and Youth agencies and law enforcement) and investigation of reports. (Senate Bill 1116 – Washington) Status: Signed into law.

This bill requires the review of indicated reports by county agency administrator and solicitor, notification requirements, removal from the child abuse registry for good cause (the person is no longer a risk of child abuse), and implements provisions to protect child victims and witnesses at appeals hearings. (House Bill 433 – Aument) Status: Now part of Act 108 of 2013. See House Bill 726.

Improving Child Abuse Investigations and Prosecutions

Funds in the defunct DARE fund would be redirected to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CAC).  (House Bill 89 – Marsico) Status: Signed into law.

Raising the cost of duplicate birth certificates would provide dedicated funding for CACs. (House Bill 316 – Harhart) Status: Signed into law.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency would be directed to study the locations and operations of Children’s Advocacy Centers and recommend improvements.  (House Resolution 45 – Caltagirone)

The attorney general or a district attorney would be allowed to issue administrative subpoenas to obtain identifying information about persons transmitting child pornography. (House Bill 90 – Saccone) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

Offenses would be upgraded for simple and aggravated assault to increase penalties for those who assault children.  (House Bill 350 – Rock) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

The penalty would increase for a person who conceals the death of a child. (House Bill 20 – Simmons) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sharing Information about Child Abuse to Increase Protection

This bill requires that a court, in a child custody matter, has information with respect to whether the child has been identified as a victim of child abuse by a party or a member of the party’s household. (House Bill 414 – O’Neill) Status: Signed into law.

This bill prohibits the court from disclosing the name of child victims of physical and sexual abuse when the victim was under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. (House Bill 1201 – Barbin) Status: Signed into law.

Background clearance requirements would be expanded for those who work or volunteer with children and the list of criminal offenses that prevent individuals from working in jobs or programs where they are responsible for children would be updated.  (House Bill 435 – Moul) Status: On governor's desk.

Information about substantiated child abuse would be required to be in included in protection from abuse court filings.  (House Bill 328 – Delozier) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

Strengthening Child Abuse Prevention Efforts

The Joint State Government Commission would study the effectiveness and financial viability of child abuse and neglect prevention programs and make recommendations.  (House Resolution 163 – Harhart)

The Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act would help custody courts identify families at risk for abduction and provide methods to prevent abduction.  (House Bill 286 – Kula) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

School districts would be required to incorporate child exploitation awareness material into existing curricula. (House Bill 19 – Gingrich) Status: In Senate Appropriations Committee.

New training requirements would be enacted for police officers and judges in recognizing and reporting child abuse. (House Bill 378 – D. Costa) Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee.

Future Action

A victim of child abuse would be allowed to testify anonymously against the abuser in court. (House Bill 342 – Quinn) Status: Tabled in the House.

A criminal offense would be created for knowingly filing a false report of child abuse, the same way a criminal offense exists for filing a false police report.  (House Bill 1045 – Cutler) Status: Status: Now part of Act 118 of 2013. See Senate Bill 28.