January 11, 2015
The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection convened in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and in 2012 recommended changes to Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws. Pennsylvania had been known as a state particularly lax in the structure of its child abuse regulations and as having consequently low reporting numbers. The Sandusky situation and the publicity it brought served to help bring the problem to light.
The new laws were signed by the governor on December 18 and are now in effect. They include 21 pieces of legislation.
The changes include a critically important redefinition of what is abuse. Specifically, the standard previously required “serious physical injury”, which was a high benchmark in cases where there was clear injury which doctors had trouble classifying as “serious”. The standard has been reduced to requiring “bodily injury” including “impairment of a physical condition” or “substantial pain”.
The new definition of child abuse is also changed to include relatives who don’t live with the child and a significant other of a parent, while the previous definition included only parents.
The laws put further protections in place, including expanding the list of mandated child abuse reporters, expanding background checks for school staff and volunteers, and adding training for certain mandated child abuse reporters, among other things.
One could say it’s unfortunate that these protections for abused children had to be fueled by a football scandal, which seems to lead to attention that child protection in itself does not receive. Nonetheless, these laws are a major improvement and a positive step forward in child protection.