Pennsylvania has clarified its definition of who is required to report suspected child abuse.
Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday signed into law four pieces of legislation that, in short, expand the definition of mandatory reporters, streamline the reporting process, increase penalties for mandatory reporters who fail to do so and provide protections from employment discrimination for filing a report in good faith.
The legislation happened to be signed in April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The new law: Effective Dec. 31, the new definition of a mandatory reporter includes anyone who comes in contact, or interacts, with a child or is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of a child.
The way that the law was originally written was very vague, said Kirsten Kenyon, legislative director for Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, sponsor of the bill. It included a group of professions required to report abuse, but it wasn't necessarily limited to those professions, she said.
The law now specifically includes volunteers with children's programs and employees — not just administrators, teachers and nurses — of elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.
If they suspect abuse, they will be required to immediately report the abuse to the Department of Public Welfare by phone, with a written or electronic report filed within 48 hours.
Long time coming: Ward introduced the mandatory reporter bill, as well as other child abuse legislation, before the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State became public in 2011.
As the chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, she then introduced a resolution that created the Task Force on Child Protection, a panel of experts whose recommendations led to this year's legislation.
"It's gratifying and a huge relief to know that we were able to close that big loophole that some of the kids that were being abused fell through," Ward said.
It isn't a flashy law, but it's "good for your heart," she said.
"I'm just really happy about all this," Ward said.
Corbett has now signed more than a dozen bills as part of the state's first broad update to child abuse laws in nearly 20 years.
Local response: The new legislation provides a clearer picture of who is responsible to report suspected child abuse, said Deb Harrison, executive director of the York County Children's Advocacy Center.
"I think that it does broaden and clarify who should be reporting, and we think that's a very good thing," she said.
A major concern is that in a lot of organizations, people have always reported up to their superiors, which can stall reports and put children in danger, Harrison said.
"This (legislation) helps to prevent some of that," she said, noting it's now clear people should report "out" to investigators, not "up" to organizational leaders.
Although the public has been hard on Penn State, the confusion over who is responsible for reporting abuse happens every day in York County, Harrison said.
"Schools experience it over and over again. ... They just feel this tremendous pressure to not falsely accuse someone. For me, that's ultimately making the decision that an adult is more worth protecting than a child," she said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.