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Increased Exposure to Child Abuse Reporting in the Workplace

December 14th, 2017

By: Jonathan Krinick

Increased Exposure to Child Abuse Reporting in the Workplace

The Pennsylvania Legislature, to a large degree in response to some of the institutional failures apparent at Penn State University in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, took several steps to broaden the definition of child abuse. These changes to the Child Protective Services Law and a lack of direction by the legislature and those charged with enforcing the law have resulted in a large increase in the number of reports of suspected child abuse made to the Department of Human Services in the past year. If you work with children, you need to be aware of the risks posed by the changes in the law.

In order for an injury to a child to be classified as child abuse, the law previously required the injury to be a serious bodily injury. This level of suspected injury to be reported has now been reduced to any bodily injury that causes an impairment or substantial pain. We all know from personal experience that defining a level of pain is hardly a scientific process; this is true in assessing our own level of pain and even more true for trying to assess the pain of someone else. Lowering the degree of injury required to be reported to any injury that impairs any bodily function to any degree or that seems to cause substantial pain (wherever that may fall on a scale that is never defined or provided), has led to a massive increase in cases of reported abuse.

A further definitional change now leaves school employees who have regular contact with children in the same position as parents and guardians; they are now all considered to be a person responsible for the child’s welfare. It makes no difference whether one is a parent or teacher or classroom assistant. It makes no difference whether one is employed by the school or an outside provider of specialized service or a volunteer in the classroom. It makes no difference whether one is an aide, cafeteria worker or school police officer. All persons who provide care, supervision, training or control are subject to the now-expanded provisions of the Child Protective Services Law.

The list of those individuals required to report cases of suspected child abuse is expansive; for example: anyone licensed by the state to practice in any health-related field, any employee of a health care facility, clergy/priest/rabbi/religious leader of any established religious organization, employee of child-care facility or school employee.

And the list goes on. Such mandated reporters are required to report any reasonable suspicion of abuse. The law is silent as to what constitutes a reasonable suspicion. But the law is not silent as to penalties. The penalties for a mandated reporter willfully failing to report a reasonable suspicion of child abuse is a misdemeanor of the second degree at a minimum, and may rise to a felony of the second degree in extreme circumstances of abuse.

This combination of changes – a broader and looser definition of child abuse, a vast expansion of those required to report, and an increase in the penalties for failing to do so – has led to a vast increase in the number of reports filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ChildLine and Abuse Registry in the past year.

For more information on what to do if you find yourself the subject of a report of child abuse, please contact the labor and employment attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson at (800) 631-1233.

 

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