Child Protection Updates
 

Modernizing Pennsylvania's Child Protection Laws
PA State Rep. Kathy Watson, Chairwoman of the House's Children and Youth Committee, provides a comprehensive overview on newly enacted legislation aimed at modernizing Pennsylvania's child protection laws. Watch the full video here.
 
In one of the signature accomplishments of the General Assembly’s 2013-14 legislative session, Pennsylvania completed the first comprehensive update and improvement of its child abuse and child welfare laws in nearly two decades.

A total of 23 bills were enacted in a landmark legislative package that was based on recommendations of the Task Force on Child Protection, convened at the direction of the Legislature in 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.

The House Children and Youth Committee played a leading role in the development and passage of this important legislation, which is designed to better protect the children of Pennsylvania and to provide more tools for effective prosecution of offenders.

This legislative package considerably strengthens Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law and will:

•           Improve the ability to recognize, report, investigate and prosecute child abuse.
•           Hold abusers more accountable and increase criminal penalties for offenses.
•           Provide more training and other tools for the dedicated professionals whose mission it is to protect and serve children.
•           Improve child abuse reporting and investigations.
•           Expand due process protections for those wrongly accused.
•           Share information to increase protection.
•           Strengthen prevention efforts.

There is still more that we can do. We recognize that child abuse laws need to adapt and will constantly be reviewing and reassessing how we are combatting child abuse.

Please review this newsletter to learn ways in which the new laws may impact you, your profession and/or your family, and how you can help stop child abuse. If you have any questions, more information is available online at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.

Child protection is everybody’s business.


What is Child Abuse?

•    Sexual exploitation, grooming, bodily injury, serious mental injury or serious physical neglect must be committed “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.”
•    Examples -- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing or cutting the child in a manner that endangers the child; unreasonably restraining or confining the child; forcefully shaking or striking a child under 1 year of age; interfering with the breathing of a child; leaving the child unsupervised with a sexually violent predator or a sexually violent delinquent; and causing the death of the child.
•    Exceptions -- Environmental factors beyond control; refusal to provide medical or surgical care based on a deeply held religious belief; use of reasonable force for supervision, control and safety purposes; fights between siblings; and self-defense.
 
Who Are Mandated Reporters?

Mandated reporters are required by law to report suspected child abuse. They include:

•    Licensed professionals in health-related fields including emergency medical services providers.
•    Medical examiners, coroners and funeral directors.
•    Employees of health care facilities/providers involved with patient admission, examination, care or treatment.
•    School employees.
•    Employees of a child care service who have direct contact with children.
•    Clergy and other religious leaders.
•    Attorneys affiliated with an organization/institution responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children.
•    Individuals (paid or volunteer) who accept responsibility for a child as part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service.
•    Employees of social service agencies who have direct contact with children.
•    Peace officers or law enforcement officials.
•    Employees at public libraries who have direct contact with children.
•    Persons supervised by any of the above, and who have direct contact with children.
•    Independent contractors of organizations that care for children.

How Do I Know What to Look For?

Child abuse recognition and reporting training are required for mandated reporters and for operators and employees of facilities and agencies regulated or supervised who are mandated reporters, including operators and employees of day care centers, foster parents, and caregivers in family day care homes.

All training must be state approved and address the recognition of the signs of child abuse and the reporting requirements for suspected child abuse. Training will be offered through the Department of Human Services (formerly Department of Public Welfare) website.

What Happens if I Suspect Child Abuse?

•    If you are a mandated reporter, call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 or file an online report at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov. Reports must include your name and how to reach you. Mandated reporters must also report the suspicions to the person in charge of the organization, who then assumes responsibility for facilitating the cooperation of the organization with the investigation of the report.
•    Childline should only be called to report suspicions of child abuse. Do not call this hotline for questions about the new laws.
•    If you are not a mandated reporter but still suspect abuse, call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. Although your identity will be protected by the department, the law now includes criminal penalties for intentionally filing a false report.

What If I Don’t Report?

Criminal penalties for mandated reporters who willfully fail to report suspected child abuse will apply.

How Can I Learn More?

 

Visit www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov for links to:

•    Online training.
•    Training providers.
•    Changes to the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL).
•    Online ChildLine clearances with links to State Police and FBI clearance applications.
•    Electronic reporting of child abuse suspicions.

What Do the New Background Check Laws Mean For Me?

Effective immediately, clarification changes have been made to the state’s new law (Act 153 of 2014) regarding background clearances for employees and volunteers who have direct and routine contact with children. Under Act 15 0f 2015, formerly House Bill 1276, these clarification changes officially will help thousands of organizations better determine who needs to have background clearance when working with children.

As a parent…

•    Background checks, either previously or newly required, are conducted to determine whether a prospective or current volunteer who has direct and routine contact with children or oversees someone with direct and routine contact with children, has been convicted of any serious felonies or sex crimes, or has been identified as a perpetrator in a substantiated case of child abuse.

As an educator…

•    The separate standards that exist for school employees with respect to substantiating and reporting child abuse are eliminated. This ensures that the same standards will be applied in school incidents as in any other case.
•    Suspected abuse must be reported directly to ChildLine and the school administrator must be notified.
•    Public and private schools and their contractors are required to conduct a thorough employment history review prior to offering employment to any applicant for a position involving direct and routine contact with children. Each applicant must provide detailed background information in order to be considered, and previous employers must provide a school entity with all requested background information regarding a former employee.
•    If an existing employee already has obtained the required clearances prior to Dec. 31, 2014, then those clearances will be valid for five years from the time they were most recently certified. If an existing employee’s clearances are older than five years old, or if they never before obtained clearances, but now will be required to get them, they have until Dec. 31, 2015, to obtain the clearances.
•    For the first time, educators must re-certify every five years.
•    The new background check clearance requirements for all employees went into effect Dec. 31, 2014.
•    These background clearances are portable, meaning you do not have to duplicate this process for each and every employment position you hold. However, someone cannot use the free volunteer background clearances for employment purposes.
Employees at institutions of higher education are exempt from the background checks, unless their students participate in dual enrollment programs.

As someone whose profession involves direct and routine contact with children…

•    You will be required to obtain both criminal background check clearances and child abuse clearances, and to have those clearances recertified every five years.
•    The clearances include the PA State Police criminal background check; a child abuse clearance from the PA Department of Human Services (formerly the Department of Public Welfare); and an FBI criminal background check clearance, which includes fingerprinting.
•    If you already have obtained the required clearances prior to Dec. 31, 2014, then those clearances will be valid for five years from the time they were most recently certified. If your clearances are older than five years old, or if you never before obtained clearances, but now will be required to get them, you have until Dec. 31, 2015, to obtain the clearances.
•    The new background check clearance and recertification requirements for all employees go into effect Dec. 31, 2014.
•    These background clearances are portable, meaning you do not have to duplicate this process for each and every employment position you hold. However, someone cannot use the free volunteer background clearances for employment purposes.
•  For co-op, work-study and internship programs, one adult supervisor of the program must be designated to obtain the required clearances and to be in the student’s immediate vicinity at regular intervals during the program.

As a volunteer…

• Under the new law (Act 15), volunteers must obtain the clearances if they have direct volunteer contact, meaning that they have care, supervision, guidance or control AND routine interaction with children. This is the standard that will apply to determining whether an adult volunteer must get the background checks.
•    If you have resided in the Commonwealth continuously for at least the past 10 years, you will be required to obtain only the PA State Police criminal background check clearance and the child abuse clearance. If you have resided in Pennsylvania for less than 10 years, you will be required to obtain an FBI criminal background check clearance, only once until the 10-year threshold has been reached.
•    These requirements for volunteers will go into effect Aug. 25, 2015.
•    If you obtained these clearances prior to July 1, 2015, they will be valid for five years from the time they were most recently certified. If you are an existing volunteer and your clearances are older than five years old, or if you never before obtained clearances, but now will be required to get them, you have until July 1, 2016, to obtain the clearances. Any prospective adult volunteer must have the clearances obtained before beginning volunteer service.
•    These background clearances are portable, meaning you do not have to duplicate this process for each and every volunteer position you hold.
•    You must provide written notice to your organization within 72 hours of any new arrests or convictions for an offense that would prohibit you from working with children, or if you have been named as a perpetrator in a report of substantiated child abuse.
•    Convictions of a drug offense within the past five years would disqualify you from serving as a volunteer who works with children.
•    The new law does not subject the one-time volunteers, such as parents who visit school for a career day or as a guest reader, to these requirements.

Please Note: The vast majority of organizations, schools and churches that use volunteers already have their own stringent background check clearance policies in place. The new law sets minimum requirements, but nothing in this law prohibits organizations from establishing or continuing even more stringent internal policies.

What will this cost me?

The fees for employees are: child abuse clearance, $8; state police criminal background check clearance, $8; and FBI clearance, $27.50. The fees for the child abuse clearance and the state police criminal background check will be waived for volunteers only, beginning July 25, 2015.

As a community member…

A study, conducted in 2013 by the Center for Opinion Research with the sponsorship of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, found that only one in five – or 17 percent – Pennsylvania adults believes that abuse is a serious problem. About one-third of those surveyed who had suspected abuse in the past actually reported it.

Awareness is key in educating the public about the signs of child abuse, and to help ease the fears people have about getting involved. Although adults want to do the right thing, according to the study, people are fearful of reporting abuse because they feel they don’t have all the tools to make the right decision in reporting their suspicions.

Visit www.pa-fsa.org to learn more.