After Freeh, Sandusky, and Penn State – A Look at Child Abuse Reporting Requirements
August 29, 2012


Pennsylvania Child Abuse Reporting Requirements

By Sandy Meilton, Esq.

Louis Freeh recently released his report and recommendations on the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.  The report and recommendations certainly shock theconscious of any one.  As awful as these allegations are, I sincerely hope that this brings more victims out of the shadows and into the sunlight.  Like so many others have done, I commend the victims of the case for having the courage to speak out.  Like so many other have done, I also wish to encourage those who have not spoken up to speak up.

Prior to becoming a lawyer I was a high school teacher.  I also taught briefly at the elementary school level.  For more than 30 years, I have been involved in an area of the law that directly impacts on the welfare of children.  With this in mind, I wanted to write a little about what is required under existing[1] Pennsylvania law when a person has reason to believe a child is being abused or has been abused.

Definition of child abuse

23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6303(b).  The definition of child abuse is broad and includes the following

  1. Any non-accidental serious physical injury
  2. Any non-accidental serious mental injury
  3. Any non-accidental sexual abuse or exploitation
  4. Any act or failure to act which creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury
  5. Serious neglect caused by a prolonged lack of supervision or failure to provide the essentials of life

Mandatory reporters

Any person is permitted to report suspected child abuse.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6313.  However, certain people are “required” to report child abuse and by that I mean that if a person fails to report the child abuse, the person can be criminally prosecuted and charged with a third degree misdemeanor.  To be required to report child abuse, a person must be a “mandatory reporter”.  The definition of “mandatory reporter” is rather broad and includes any person “who, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children.”  The statute also specifically designates certain professions[2] including physicians, school teachers, social workers, day-care workers and police officers as “mandatory reporters”.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6311(b).

Mistakes by the mandatory reporter

A mandatory reporter who fails to make a proper report commits a third degree misdemeanor.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6319.  However, a mandatory reporter who makes a report in good faith (which is presumed) and that report is later determined to be unfounded is protected from liability.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6318.

When/How to report

A report can be made, by calling ChildLine at 1.800.932.0313 or the appropriate county agency.  The report must be made immediately after the incident.  A written report needs to be made within forty-eight (48) hours after the telephone call.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6313(a).

Where to report

Reports can be made to the appropriate county agency or the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.  The person receiving the report will ensure that the child is safe.  If the report is made to a county agency, the person will also notify the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6313(b).  This initial report is supplemented by a written report that is written by the person making the report to the county agency.  23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6313(c).  The report, among other items, must include the following information:

  1. The names and addresses of the child and the parents or other person responsible for the care of the child if known.
  2. Where the suspected abuse occurred.
  3. The age and sex of the subjects of the report.
  4. The nature and extent of the suspected child abuse, including any evidence of prior abuse to the child or siblings of the child.
  5. The name and relationship of the person or persons responsible for causing the suspected abuse, if known, and any evidence of prior abuse by that person or persons.
  6. Family composition.
  7. The source of the report.
  8. The person making the report and where that person can be reached.
  9. The actions taken by the reporting source, including the taking of photographs and X-rays, removal or keeping of the child or notifying the medical examiner or coroner.

 Process after written report is filed

Once the report is written, a physician or hospital can take the child into protective custody for a maximum of 24 hours.  The physician must notify the relevant county agency immediately.  If the county agency determines that the child needs to remain in protective custody for a longer period of time, the county agency may get a court order to extend the period.

In all cases where a child is taken into protective custody, a hearing must be held within 72 hours.  At the hearing a judge will determine whether the child is without proper parental care.  If this determination is made, the child may remain in protective custody for an indeterminate period of time.  If this determination is made, the relevant county agency must file paperwork in the Court of Common Pleas alleging that the child is dependent so that adoption proceedings may begin.

 Conclusion

In conclusion, the statistics are staggering—approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused by the time they are 18.  United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and it is only through awareness that abuse will stop before another innocent child becomes a victim.

 


[1] This post is not intended to serve as an opinion, comment, or editorial on proposed changes to the law.  Rather, this post is intended to merely inform readers of the state of the law as it exists today.

[2] The full list is as follows:  licensed physician, osteopath, medical examiner, coroner, funeral director, dentist, optometrist, chiropractor, podiatrist, intern, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of persons, Christian Science practitioner, member of the clergy, school administrator, school teacher, school nurse, social services worker, day-care center worker or any other child-care or foster-care worker, mental health professional, peace officer or law enforcement official.