Over the last year, the Pennsylvania legislature has enacted more than twenty laws addressing a multitude of issues directly relating to the protection of children that practitioners and laypersons should be aware of. Included in these changes are a longer list of mandatory reporters, a more rigorous definition of child abuse, new licensing requirements, and the potential for increased penalties for those who fail to report child abuse.
A complete understanding these laws is critical to protecting children. A handy comparison chart is available at this link for comparing the prior laws against the new requirements. Here are some of the highlights:
- Increased availability of electronic reporting and assurance of confidentiality of reports
- Expanded mandatory reporters to include those licensed to practice in health-related fields, medical examiners, coroners, funeral directors, employees of health care facilities, school employees, employees of child-care services, clergymen, social services workers, law enforcement, emergency medical services providers, public library employees, attorneys, and those who are supervised or managed by those listed. The level of suspicion necessary to require mandatory reporting is defined as “reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse.”
- Mandate that mandatory reporters immediately report suspected abuse orally and submit written follow-up reports within 48 hours
- Expanded immunity from civil and criminal liability for certain persons who report suspected child abuse
- Increased penalties from a misdemeanor of the third degree to a felony of the third degree if the person willfully fails to report, the child abuse constitutes a felony of the first degree or higher, and the person has direct nature of the abused. Otherwise, the new laws make failure to report a misdemeanor.
- Established a statewide database to track reports and other information
- Provided additional education and training
For those interested in learning more, see the chart highlighted above. Also, for those practitioners interested, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute is hosting two members of the Task Force on Child Protection for a Continuing Legal Education presentation in April. See here for more details on that opportunity.