Recent changes to Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting law have just gone into effect as of December 31, 2014. Among the changes: expanding the definition of mandatory reporters, increasing penalties for failing to report, and a repeat certification requirement. These changes come at a time when public discussion about child sex abuse has reached what seems like critical mass, especially in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky Penn State sexual abuse scandal.
Events Leading up to the Recent Amendments
Sandusky, a previous Penn State football coach employee, was tried and convicted of sexually abusing as many as 40 young boys over an extended period of time. Since then, there have been multiple child sex abuse scandals in Pennsylvania. Multiple teachers and school employees have been accused of sexually abusing students.
It is important to note that the Sandusky sex abuse scandal was, by no means, Pennsylvania’s first and only major child sex abuse scandal. The Philadelphia priest abuse case is still ongoing and actually preceded the Sandusky case. Monsignor Lynn’s criminal conviction for endangering the welfare of a child is under consideration by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; oral arguments were held in November 2014. While there is no time deadline within which the court is required to issue its ruling, a decision is expected soon.
Loopholes in the Old Law
In the days and weeks after the Sandusky case, it became apparent that Pennsylvania’s mandatory child abuse reporting law was unclear. It created confusion as to who was required to report and what the reporting requirements actually were. For instance, the prior version of the mandatory reporting law (23 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Section 6311) defined a mandatory reporter as:
A person who, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made in accordance with section 6313 (relating to reporting procedure) when the person has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience, that a child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse, including child abuse by an individual who is not a perpetrator. (emphasis added)
The problem with this definition is that it left too much to interpretation. The phrases in bold simply didn’t convey enough certainty, i.e., the phrase “reasonable cause” was and is a loose phrase, and often cited as a major source of confusion. For instance, several educators expressed confusion as to what constituted “reasonable cause.”
Who is a Mandatory Child Sex Abuse Reporter?
The changes make it clear precisely who is required to report child abuse including sexual abuse and sexual assault. The above definition was stricken from the law and in its place is a list of mandatory reporters, which includes:
- persons licensed/certified to practice in any health-related field under the jurisdiction of the Department of State,
- medical examiners, coroners or funeral directors,
- employees of health care facilities licensed by the Department of Health, and who are engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of individuals,
- employees of child-care services who have direct contact with children,
- volunteers of programs, activities or services who accept responsibility for children,
- employees of social services agencies who have direct contact with children,
- employees of public libraries who have direct contact with children, and
- foster parents.
In addition, an individual who works for a mandatory reporter and who has direct contact with children is also subject to the mandatory reporting law. *The list above is not exhaustive. Visit the state’s legislative website for the full list.
The changes to the mandatory child abuse reporting laws are a step in the right direction in protecting Pennsylvania children from sexual predators. For more information, visit our sexual abuse law library for free articles from our lawyers.
About the Firm’s Sexual Abuse Law Practice
Laffey, Bucci & Kent’s Philadelphia office serves as its primary office in 4 states, including PA, NJ, DE and NY. Our lawyers specialize in crime victims lawsuits, including child sexual abuse and assault. Firm founder Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. Please call the firm for more information. (866) 641-0806