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Dinniman, Crime Victims Center Hold Session on New Child Abuse Laws
WEST CHESTER (July 17) – State Senator Andy Dinniman and the Chester County Crime Victims Center joined on Thursday to host a informational seminar on Pennsylvania’s new, stronger laws protecting children from physical and sexual abuse. The laws include an expansion of whom within schools and other institutions is “mandated” to report suspected child abuse, and Thursday’s meeting was attended by school officials from throughout Chester County.
Nearly 50 school superintendents, administrators, principals and teachers gathered at the Chester County Intermediate Unit to listen and pose questions to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, which will help administer the new laws. Other agencies represented at Thursday’s meeting included the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
“This session we passed 12 laws to better protect children from physical and sexual abuse. As minority chairman of the Senate Education committee, I want to make sure our school communities and others understand their new responsibilities under these laws and what we must all do to keep our children safe.”
Dinniman said Act 33 of 2014, approved by lawmakers in April and scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2014, is a prime example of an important new law that will clarify and expand the list of individuals within schools who will be required by law to report suspected child abuse, and for the first time, require that they report it directly to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare as well as their respective supervisor.
“This law adds to the list of ‘mandated reporters’ – those who by law are required to report suspected child abuse – and also makes very clear that the list can include staff at all K-12 schools and individuals within independent contractors that provide a program, activity or service to a school,” Dinniman said. “It also says the reporters will have to immediately notify DPW either electronically or through the state’s new ChildLine toll-free telephone number (800-932-0313), instead of simply passing along their report to a supervisor, which was the requirement under the old law.”
“It was the tragedy at Penn State that brought in these sweeping reforms to our laws regarding the reporting and prevention of child abuse in Pennsylvania,” Dinniman added. “All these new laws have either recently became effective or will come into effect over the coming months, and it’s vital for everyone and particularly our school leaders to understand our responsibilities in this new era.”
The laws passed in 2013 and this year were recommended by the 11-member Task Force on Child Protection that was created in December 2011 after former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. Three Penn State officials including former Penn State President Graham B. Spanier are awaiting trial on charges they failed to report suspected child abuse.
Keith Hayes, Director of the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families thanked Senator Dinniman during Thursday’s event, saying the informational seminar was critical to creating awareness and understanding of the new laws. He said he expected more such meetings to occur in the near future.
“This will only work to the extent that we partner together,” Hayes said, referring to the social service and education officials in the room and mutual understanding of the new requirements. “If this is going to work, it is because we are having this type of respectful discourse. I think this is really helpful, and I think it is just the beginning.”
Thursday’s event was part of Dinniman’s initiative to protect the welfare of children and young adults throughout the Commonwealth. Earlier this month Pennsylvania approved its new Anti-Human Trafficking Law, Act 108, which Dinniman helped guide to passage in a year-long effort that included a call-to-action event in April of 2013 at the Chester County Historical Society. That new law gave Pennsylvania its first comprehensive legal definition of human trafficking and provided other tools to combat the crime.
The following other laws were approved in 2013 and 2014 to better protect children from physical and sexual abuse:
- Act 105 of 2013, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, increased the penalty for child pornography and more specifically, allowed for increased sentences based on the number of offenses, the age of the child, and the nature of the images.
- Act 107 of 2013, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, requires Pennsylvania family courts that are hearing a child-custody case to find out whether the child’s history includes any indicated or founded reports of child abuse and whether anyone in the household has been identified as the perpetrator in any indicated or founded reports.
- Act 108 of 2013, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, 2014, redefines and broadens the definition of “child abuse” within our mandatory-reporting, social-service investigation and child-abuse registry laws.
- Act 109 of 2013, which came into effect on Feb. 16, 2014, updated the 1986 law that ensures the Commonwealth’s health-related licensing boards are informed when a licensed individual is convicted of a felony.
- Act 116 of 2013, which came into effect on Feb. 16, 2014, increases from a misdemeanor to a felony the penalty for luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure.
- Act 117 of 2013, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, 2014, broadens the definition of “perpetrator” for the purpose of child- abuse investigations under the Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law.
- Act 118 of 2013, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, strengthens Pennsylvania child-abuse laws by lowering the age of an “adult perpetrator” from 21 to 18 and also creates two new specific criminal offenses: the intentional, false reporting of suspected child abuse; and intimidation and retaliation against those who report suspected child abuse.
- Act 119 of 2013, part of which came into effect on July 1, 2014 and the remainder of which will come into effect on Dec. 31, 2014, creates a statewide database of protective-service agencies that will track false reports of child abuse. The law will also provide criminal and civil liability to individuals, institutions, schools and agencies that in good faith make a report of suspected child abuse.
- Act 120 of 2013, which came into effect on Feb. 16, 2014, significantly amended and strengthened Pennsylvania’s 41-year-old Professional Education Discipline Act, which is the Commonwealth’s system for investigating and disciplining misconduct by educators. Specifically the new law expands the law’s jurisdiction to include private-school teachers and independently contracted educators. The new law also increases chief school administrators’ mandated-reporting responsibilities and perhaps most importantly, requires that teachers and other mandated reporters report suspected abuse immediately to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, instead of simply to their supervisor as per the old law.
- Act 123 of 2013, which came into effect on March 18, 2014, amends Pennsylvania Child Protective Services with procedural changes that county agencies must follow immediately after suspected abuse to better ensure the safety of the child victim.
- Act 4 of 2014, which came into effect on April 22, 2014, expands health-providers’ mandated-reporting responsibilities to include newborns suffering withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure and children under 1 year of age otherwise negatively affected by a parent’s use of alcohol or drugs.