Just as 9/11 flipped the switch about how our country viewed protect-
ing our homeland, so has the Jerry Sandusky scandal flipped a switch about how we think about child abuse. When it comes to child abuse, absolutely no one in Pennsylvania can now say, "We didn't know" or "We weren't aware."
Most of us have wondered how a person could prey on children. Many of us have proclaimed without equivocation what we would have done given the opportunity. The artificial situations we create in our minds are never as messy as real life, though, and often we fail to realize how much we don't know about the complexity of our state's Child Protective Services Law and the dynamics that accompany child abuse and neglect.
Mandated reporters -- those individuals who have a rigid legal requirement to report suspected child abuse -- have been under the spotlight as a result of the Sandusky scandal. In Pennsylvania, the Child Protective Services Law and the accompanying Protective Service Regulations govern the requirements for reporting child abuse.
In short form, here's what they say:
Anyone in Pennsylvania who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or is being abused may report. The toll-free number for ChildLine, the state's child abuse registry and hotline, is 1-800-932-0313.
People who come into contact with children in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession are mandated reporters, so named because they are required to report.
The law says that when a mandated reporter has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience, that a child with whom they work is a victim of child abuse, a report to ChildLine must be made immediately. This applies to children under the care, supervision, guidance or training of the mandated reporter or of the agency, institution, organization or other entity with which the mandated reporter is affiliated.
Mandated reporters who work in an institution, school, facility or agency must immediately notify the person in charge of that entity or that person's designated agent of the suspected abuse. The person in charge or the designee has the responsibility and obligation to contact ChildLine immediately.
It is important to note that the person in charge or the designee may not make an independent determination of whether to report. He or she must.
Afterward, the person in charge or the designee is supposed to notify the mandated reporter that the report has been made.
Organizations should have a policy in place to ensure that all employees are aware of this protocol.
To say that the Freeh report on Penn State University's handling of Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children was disturbing is an understatement. So much effort went into protecting the reputation of the abuser and the university. So little regard was given to the children.
Deciding to report suspected child abuse and neglect can be a difficult decision. As horrible as that case was, it was only the tip of the iceberg. You need to know that in 2011, there were 3,408 substantiated cases of child abuse in Pennsylvania. Those cases resulted in 4,071 injuries to children. And 34 child deaths.
At the end of the day we can only hope that everyone does his or her part to make sure that the needs of children are placed above the needs of adults. We can only hope that our communities are comprised of citizens who pay attention to the safety and well-being of children and feel empowered and adequately prepared to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
If you're still not sure about how or what to do, call us, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, toll-free at 800-448-4906.
-- Angela Liddle is execu tive director of the Pennsylva nia Family Support Alliance, a nonprofit agency that annually trains more than 8,000 mandated reporters in how to recognize and report suspected child abuse, and is the Pennsylvania sponsor of The Front Porch Project, a community-based training initiative that educates the general public about how to protect children from abuse.