PA Strengthens Child Abuse and Protection Laws
More than twenty new pieces of legislation relating to protecting children were recently enacted, and many took effect at the beginning of 2015. The new laws are designed to address reporting requirements, law enforcement investigation and prosecution, and judicial handling of child abuse and neglect cases.
Among the most significant changes in the law is a new set of definitions for what constitutes abuse and neglect. “Child abuse” now means intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing any of the following:
• Causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
• Fabricating, feigning or intentionally exaggerating or inducing a medical symptom or disease which results in a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment to the child through any recent act.
• Causing or substantially contributing to serious mental injury to a child through any act or failure to act or a series of such acts or failures to act.
• Causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any act or failure to act.
• Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
• Creating a likelihood of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any recent act or failure to act.
• Causing serious physical neglect of a child.
• Causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act.
Child abuse also now includes certain acts in which the act itself constitutes abuse without any resulting injury or condition as follows:
• Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing or cutting a child in a manner that endangers the child.
• Unreasonably restraining or confining a child, based on consideration of the method, location or the duration of the restraint or confinement.
• Forcefully shaking a child under one year of age.
• Forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child under one year of age.
• Interfering with the breathing of a child.
• Causing a child to be present during the operation of a methamphetamine laboratory, provided that the violation is being investigated by law enforcement.
• Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual, other than the child’s parent, who the parent knows or reasonably should have known was required to register as a Tier II or III sexual offender or has been determined to be a sexually violent predator or sexually violent delinquent.
Under the prior law, physical abuse required serious injury, but now encompasses bodily injury. Additionally, neglect was previously defined as something prolonged or repeated, but the new law includes a one-time incident that is egregious in nature.
Another significant change to the law is an expansion of the list of individuals who are mandatory reporters of suspected instances of child abuse. The list now includes:
• A person licensed or certified to practice in any health-related field under the jurisdiction of the Department of State.
• A medical examiner, coroner or funeral director.
• An employee of a health care facility or provider licensed by the Department of Health, who is engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of individuals.
• A school employee.
• An employee of a child-care service who has direct contact with children in the course of employment.
• A clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization.
• An individual paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child.
• An employee of a social services agency who has direct contact with children in the course of employment.
• A peace officer or law enforcement official.
• An emergency medical services provider certified by the Department of Health.
• An employee of a public library who has direct contact with children in the course of employment.
• An individual supervised or managed by a person listed above, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment.
• An independent contractor who has direct contact with children.
• An attorney affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or other entity, including a school or regularly established religious organization that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children.
• A foster parent.
The new law also increases penalties for individuals who fail to report suspected child abuse, and provides increased protection for individuals who comply with the law in making reports.
Finally, the new legislation provides law enforcement with more tools to investigate child abuse crimes. The improved resources for law enforcement, coupled with the expanded definitions regarding child abuse, and increased list of individuals who are required to report suspected child abuse will certainly mean greater protection for children, and a rise in child abuse prosecutions.
For more information on Pennsylvania child abuse laws and the recent changes, visit: http://www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov/.