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PA Updates Child Abuse Laws

Pennsylvania Updates Child Abuse Laws

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 2 years since the infamous Penn State sex scandal broke national news. With so many Penn State alumni and students in the Lancaster area, the subsequent firing of Joe Paterno and trial of Jerry Sandusky are still fresh in the minds of many in our area.

It was an awakening event for the Pennsylvania government in regards to our child abuse laws. Just this past month, Governor Corbett signed the first round of laws drafted to improve the current child abuse law. These laws are intended to eliminate loopholes, tighten the definition of abuse, and to legally define responsibility for reporting abuse.

How the Jerry Sandusky Scandal Changed Everything:

House Bill 726 alters the definition of child abuse, which previously was defined as “serious bodily injury.” The new definition drops the “serious” and changes to “bodily injury”, loosening the qualifications for abuse. The law includes sexual exploitation, physical abuse, neglect, as well as other specific types of mistreatment of minors.

Governor Corbett also signed Senate Bill 23. This bill better outlines who is responsible for reporting abuse. The previous vague definition caused significant problems that were brought to light in the Penn State trials. This bill broadens the scope of who is responsible for a child’s welfare to include anyone who has direct contact with the child. This is not just parents or family members, but includes anyone from school, work, church, or any other organization. It does not matter where the abuse takes place, in regards to who is responsible for reporting it.

More signed legislation discusses the following:

  • Expanded penalties for falsely reporting abuse, but immunity for reporters in these cases.
  • Tougher penalties for possession of child pornography.
  • Establishing it as an offense to lure a child into a vehicle or structure – this was previously not a specific offense in the eyes of the law.
  • Better relations between youth agencies and law enforcement during investigations of abuse.

This legislation impacts custody cases so courts can make better decisions when awarding custody. The new law ensures that courts and judges will have better access to applicable information on previous abuse or neglect. It also includes better sharing of relevant information between child protective services and the courts making custody decisions. All these new aspects of the law hope to guarantee that the child will not encounter continued or future neglect and abuse.

More legislation is in process that will hopefully tighten up different aspects of child abuse law and deter cases like the Penn State scandal in the coming years.