Child Advocates Highlight State's Shortcomings

Nov 23, 2011

Even as state lawmakers scramble to pass new legislation in response to the bombshell sex-abuse allegations at Penn State University, children's advocates say that some legislative efforts to address child abuse are misguided and piecemeal. Worse, they say, many existing policies and services are ineffective or inconsistent.

Nine percent of calls to Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting hotline go unanswered, according to Cathleen Palm of the Protect Our Children Committee. The group wants top-down oversight from a bipartisan commission to correct that problem and others.

"Sometimes in the rush to get things done, we potentially don't realize that there were a couple 'i's we didn't dot and a couple 't's we didn't cross," Palm said. "Be urgent about it, don't have it be a commission that sits around for two years. Be urgent about it, but be deliberative, and kind of steer everything through it."

One lawmaker has a proposal that aims to streamline investigations by granting subpoena power to a state-appointed ombudsman. "If you do not have an advocate who has the ability to cut through existing confidentiality provisions with subpoena power, you will not get the type of investigation that needs to be done," said Representative Scott Petri (R-Bucks County), who has introduced the bill in three consecutive sessions. Petri said that with the attention being paid to Penn State, the measure may get somewhere this time around.