We All Have a Role in Protecting Children
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania are reminding everyone everywhere that we must work together to ensure our children are protected and safe.
Church teaching reminds us that every child is a gift from God and has a right to be respected as a person from the moment of conception. Parents have the first responsibility for protecting and nurturing children, but the entire community must support them.
The Catholic Church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People establishes a comprehensive set of procedures that address allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and employees and gives guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future abuse.
The strides the Church has taken are important, but child abuse affects the entire community. The Pennsylvania General Assembly also has taken several steps in an effort to protect children from abuse. The General Assembly established the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection through joint resolutions sponsored by Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin).
In December 2013, many of the Task Force’s recommendations became law when Governor Tom Corbett signed 10 bills to strengthen the child protection statutes, including a law expanding the definition of child abuse.
“The legislation I’m signing today will better equip our communities to protect children, and enhance the safety and security of the Commonwealth’s children,” Corbett said.
The new laws will:
- Amend the definition of child abuse to lower the threshold from serious bodily injury to bodily injury and include knowingly, recklessly or intentionally committing acts of child abuse or failing to act when child abuse is being committed. The bill also provides exclusions from substantiation of child abuse. (House Bill 726, Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks)
- Broaden the definition of perpetrator to include employees or volunteers that have regular contact with the child, including school teachers, employees, and individuals related to the child. (Senate Bill 23, Senator Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne)
- Recognize that perpetrators can be as young as 18 and create new protections that address false reports and intimidation. (Senate Bill 28, Senator Patrick Browne, R-Lehigh)
- Provide immunity for reporters from liability, penalties for false reporting and improved appeals processes. (Senate Bill 30, Senator Ted Erickson, R-Chester)
- Expand the basis for disciplinary action against teachers to include findings of child abuse. (Senate Bill 34, Senator Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster)
- Clarify and encourage joint child abuse investigations between county children and youth agencies and law enforcement (Senate Bill 1116, Senator LeAnna Washington, D-Philadelphia)
- Instruct the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to provide guidelines for offenses involving child pornography. (House Bill 321, Rep. Marcy Toepel, R- Montgomery)
- Declare that when awarding custody, a parent’s involvement with cases of child abuse shall be considered and provide for information sharing on child protective services and general protective services to the jurisdiction determining custody. (House Bill 414, Rep. Bernie O’Neill, R-Bucks)
- Prevent the records and name of minor victims of sexual or physical abuse from being available for public review. (House Bill 1201, Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria)
- Establish the offense of luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure. (House Bill 1594, Rep. Mike Regan, R-York)
Representative Marsico, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, applauded lawmakers of both parties for taking swift action on improving child protection laws.
“We have accomplished a great deal in a short period of time to increase the safety of the children in the Commonwealth,” Marsico said. “It is wonderful to have widespread bipartisan support in both chambers, as well as the governor’s office, in achieving such enormous results in such a succinct fashion and I will continue to make child protection legislation a priority.”
Other proposals are being considered in the General Assembly, including bills that would define who must report suspected child abuse to authorities.
Anyone who is a victim of sexual misconduct or suspects someone was abused is strongly encouraged to report it by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.