Government
9:01 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

Child Abuse Task Force Calls For Sweeping Changes

A special task force created in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal is calling on the legislature to make changes in the law to allow reports of child abuse within an institution to go up the chain of command.

“We saw that at Penn State.  There was supposed to be the report up through the designated individual, in this case, (Penn State President) Graham Spanier.  This has been changed in these amendments to require the person, the individual, who discovers the abuse to report it immediately to Childline (the state’s child abuse hotline),” said Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection Member Jason Kutulakis

Had such requirements been in place at Penn State, former graduate assistant Mike McQueary and a school janitor who witnessed abuse by Sandusky would have been required to file a report with the state, which could have brought his behavior to light much sooner.

“This builds in redundancy, again, putting children first and making sure we’re capturing these instances of child abuse,” said Kutulakis.

The task force delivered its final report Tuesday after a year of reviewing the government’s role in preventing and responding to child abuse.  The recommendations are nonbinding and will probably require a set of as-yet-unwritten bills for the Legislature to consider when it convenes for a new two-year session in January.

The Republican leader in the state Senate praised the report and said he expected some bills would move to the governor early next year, saying there would be swift action in some cases.

"We are fully prepared to commit the time and effort necessary to make our state safer for children," said Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.

Other highlights of the recommendations include enlarging the pool of people labeled as "perpetrators" under one state law. Task force members said such a change would get more children help from county services, help authorities identify more abusers, provide a more complete picture of the amount of abuse and likely lead to more criminal investigations.

The task force also suggested setting harsher penalties when people who are required to report abuse fail to do so.

Those who should be required to report suspected abuse also should be expanded to include college administrators and employees, coaches, lawyers and computer repair people who encounter images of child abuse, the committee said.

The definition of sexual abuse also should be expanded to include sexually explicit conversations, the panel said.

Under the recommendations, more people would find themselves subject to the child endangerment criminal statute, including anyone who knowingly acts to prevent police or child welfare workers from learning of abuse in order to protect someone.

Kutulakis said he considered the most pressing recommendation be the expanded use of multidisciplinary investigative teams and additional child advocacy centers, so that they are located within a 90-minute drive of any Pennsylvania child.

Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, is serving a state prison sentence for child sexual abuse.