A legislative package aimed at deterring child abuse in Pennsylvania is a big step closer to becoming law.
Two weeks after approving six child protection bills, the state Senate has unanimously passed another five measures to strengthen current law.
These bills would:
- increase the penalties for anyone who injures a child
- create a secure statewide database for reports of child abuse and children in need of protective services
- provide for coordinated investigations by police and county agencies of allegations of abuse
- require health care providers to immediately report if a newborn is identified as being affected by prenatal exposure to illegal substances
- toughen child abuse reporting requirements in schools
Senator Wayne Fontana’s (D-Allegheny) bill amends current law and would require the same reporting of child abuse regardless of whether the perpetrator is a school employee.
“The current law says you don’t have to report unless it rises to serious bodily injury; we take that away. Right now they’re only required to report the incidents to their supervisors. That will change. They have to report to ChildLine or to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours.”
He said his bill addresses concerns from some school board and teachers groups regarding wrongful accusations. “Is a student mad at a teacher? We handled that by putting in there if someone intentionally false reports, there’s a consequence to that, it can be a misdemeanor against them for doing that.”
Fontana originally introduced his child abuse reporting bill eight years ago when he was first elected “but nobody seemed to care,” and it never came up for a vote. He subsequently reintroduced the measure three times with no action before it was included in a package of child protection bills this year.
“When the Sandusky case hit, I said ‘if this bill had been in effect, a school employee not only would have been required to report it to the supervisor, that person would’ve had to call ChildLine ore the local authorities and report it and then report to his supervisor. But all that would have had to be done within 24 hours. Just think about how that could have changed things.”
Fontana said he’s confident these measures will help in the reporting and prevention of child abuse.
“In that people will become more aware of their obligation and duty to report, I think it will help deter child abuse; I really do.”
All five bills head to the House Aging and Youth Committee for consideration.