Proposals to change how suspected child abuse must be reported in Pennsylvania are nearing the finish line after stalling for several months.
Two measures are awaiting final votes in the House and Senate to clarify who must report child abuse and how they should do it. But a plan that originated in the state Senate would now exclude lawyers from the list of people who will be mandated reporters, after House lawmakers voiced concerns about breaching attorney-client privilege: should lawyers be mandated reporters if filing a complaint could violate the trust of their client?
Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, said she doesn’t see a major problem with the change.
“Ultimately, you want as few people as possible to have an exemption from reporting and yet, you have to balance that with the fact that there are certain privileged communications,” Palm said. “So, for now, I think the legislature has found the right path forward.”
The measure would require those who have to report suspected child abuse to do so with law enforcement – they couldn’t just report it up the chain of command to their employer. The issue is a high priority for children’s advocates because of the way the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case unfolded – three now-former Penn State officials were charged with reporting suspected abuse within their institution but standing in the way of a criminal investigation.
Two different bills would change the rules for mandated reporters: the more comprehensive of the two would not make lawyers mandated reporters. Palm said getting reforms in place is important because they are so major: people like teachers and social workers need to be trained on the new rules.
“If we get to the summer -- or even before the summer -- and this isn’t enacted, it’s very problematic in Pennsylvania,” she said. “And it’s particularly problematic in that one of the things that is most significant about the Sandusky case was about reporting child abuse.”