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New Pennsylvania child abuse prevention laws go into effect

On behalf of Soloff & Zervanos, P.C. Posted in Sexual Abuse on Friday, January 23, 2015.

If there is any silver lining to be found in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, it is that Sandusky’s actions forced Pennsylvanians to take a closer look at how state laws protect (or fail to protect) children. An examination of Pennsylvania laws revealed that there were some pretty serious flaws that needed to be fixed.

Thankfully, as of January 1, new laws took effect in Pennsylvania which seek to improve reporting of suspected child abuse and make it easier for Child Protective Services to substantiate claims and thus, intervene on behalf of allegedly abused children. We’ll discuss some of these new laws in today’s post.

Most of the changes are amendments made to the Child Protective Services Law. One important change is the threshold for what is considered child abuse. Under the old law, passed some 40 years ago, actions could only be considered child abuse if the child suffered “severe pain” and “serious impairment.” A pediatrician who advocated legal changes noted that “The [former] threshold for abuse was so high that police could charge someone as a criminal, and CPS still couldn’t call what happened child abuse.”

The new threshold changes the language to putting a child in “substantial pain.” Certain acts are also specified as child abuse, such as kicking him or locking him in a closet.

Newly enacted changes also increase reporting requirements for adults who come into contact with children in a professional setting. Such adults are now required to report suspected child abuse directly to the state through an online system. Under old laws, professionals who suspected child abuse had to pass suspicions on to a supervisor or designated reporter. As you might expect, this created the risk for breakdowns in communication.

Child protection laws are arguably some of the most important laws we have. Hopefully, Pennsylvanians will no longer allow such laws to become outdated and inadequate.

Source: Trib Live, “Pennsylvania enacts modernized child abuse laws after Sandusky scandal,” Megha Satyanarayana, Dec. 31, 2014