State official: When in doubt, report child abuse
More people are legally obligated to report suspected child abuse and more people are obligated to obtain background checks under recent changes to Pennsylvania law.
The changes aim to protect more children from child abuse in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University.
But it's more than a little confusing.
Even Cindi Horshaw, a licensed social worker with the state Department of Human Services, said she can't provide a definitive answer to individuals who wonder if they have new obligations under the law.
At a presentation Thursday in Dallastown, Horshaw took a question from one woman asking if she's obligated to obtain a clearance because she volunteers at a library and occasionally interacts with children.
That's something to ask the attorney for the library, Horshaw said.
The law offers this explanation: Adult volunteers who are responsible for the welfare of children or who have direct contact with children in a care-giving or supervisory role must obtain a clearance.
Of course, that leaves some room for interpretation.
The clearance requirement kicks in Aug. 25 for new volunteers and July 1, 2016 for current volunteers.
Mandated reporters: Thursday's presentation was hosted by state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township.
Horshaw also outlined the law's expanded definition of mandated reporters. They are people who can be held legally liable if they do not report suspected child abuse.
First of all, no one has lost their mandated reporter status, she said.
"We didn't take anyone out. We added to the categories," Horshaw said.
Most significantly, Horshaw said, that definition has expanded to include volunteers who "on the basis of the individual's role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service is a person responsible for the child's welfare or has direct contact with children."
That means volunteers in youth athletic programs, scouts and tutoring/mentoring programs could now be mandated reporters, Horshaw said.
"If you accept responsibility for a child ... you are a mandated reporter," she said.
The new law also increases the penalties for mandated reporters who fail to report suspected child abuse.
Make the report: Also new, Horshaw said, is the requirement that mandated reporters make their reports directly to state authorities — not to their own supervisors.
"You can't report up the chain of command anymore," she said.
Anyone can report child abuse to the state's hotline at 1-800-932-0313.
Because of criminal culpability, Horshaw emphasized the importance of reporting child abuse, even if you are not sure you fit the definition of a mandated reporter.
"What I always say to folks is, "When in doubt, report,'" she said.
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.