New Pennsylvania Child Abuse Laws Take Effect
Just two weeks ago, Governor Corbett signed into law a bill that toughens the penalties for child abuse and failing to report it – a long-awaited measure that has been in the works since the abuses perpetrated by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky came to light in 2011.
The bipartisan child protection legislation was signed December 18, the result of a November 2012 report from the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection. The General Assembly created the taskforce to study and reform the state’s child abuse protections as a direct result of the Sandusky case.
The new law, observers say, greatly improves and expands its predecessor statue in the following ways:
- The law now defines child abuse to include “bodily injury,” versus “serious bodily injury” in the old law.
- This expanded definition includes a person knowingly, recklessly or intentionally committing acts of child abuse or failing to act when child abuse is being committed.
- The law provides immunity from liability for reporters and strengthens the appeal process.
- Attempting to lure a child into a car or building/structure is now an offense, which, incredibly, it had not been in the past.
- While in the past a “perpetrator” was limited to a parent, parent’s significant other, a person over age 14 living with the child, or a person “responsible for the welfare of the child,” the state has now expanded this definition to include any family members, employees, volunteers, and school teachers who have regular contact with the child.
Despite its obvious value and need, social service agencies across the state are bracing for more paperwork, more phone calls, and more assessments and reviews. Still, according to news reports, the service providers welcome the changes and the specificity the new law provides.