Ward’s Task Force on Child Protection Approved by Senate

Panel to examine child abuse reporting laws and procedures, child protection.

Harrisburg – The Senate today approved a measure sponsored by Senate Aging and Youth Committee Chair Kim Ward (R-39) to conduct a sweeping review of Pennsylvania laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse.

Senate Resolution 250, creating the Task Force on Child Protection, was approved unanimously.

The Senate Aging and Youth Committee has been examining Pennsylvania’s definition of child abuse and mandated reporting of child abuse, holding public hearings in August and October. In addition, the committee recognized that there was a critical need for additional child abuse training for mandatory child abuse reporters in schools, and unanimously reported out Senate Bill 449.

Senator Ward said charges surrounding the reporting of child abuse at Penn State University have made clear the need to elevate the issues for review by an inter-disciplinary Task Force on Child Protection to make recommendations to change state laws.

“The allegations regarding child abuse at Penn State shake every decent person to the core, and add a sense of urgency to our efforts to improve child abuse reporting,” said Ward. “We need a top-to-bottom review to identify where our laws are ineffective, and to recommend what changes need to be made to shield children from such despicable crimes.”

Ward noted that mandated reporters of suspected child abuse — health care workers, educators, and others — are key elements in the state’s child protection efforts and were responsible for 77 percent of all referrals for substantiated child abuse in 2010. In 2009, Pennsylvania’s rate of substantiated child abuse was 1.4 per 1,000 children and the national rate was 9.3 per 1,000 children.  Pennsylvania’s rate fell to 1.3 per in 2010.

In 2010, Pennsylvania’s child abuse hotline – ChildLine – received approximately 121,868 calls, including 39,791 referrals for General Protective Services. At least 344 Pennsylvania children died from abuse between 2002 and 2009, with many of them dying before their second birthday and many within families previously known to the children and youth system.

The 11-member task force will include members experienced in issues relating to child abuse or in providing services to victims of child abuse. The panel’s final report will include recommendations:

  • To improve the reporting of child abuse.
  • To implement necessary changes in state statutes, practices, policies and procedures relating to child abuse.
  • To train appropriate individuals in the reporting of child abuse.

The task force will be appointed within 25 days of the adoption of the resolution and will issue a final report by November 30, 2012.

“Through our hearings, the Senate Aging and Youth Committee has learned that independent examination of medically diagnosed injuries to children raises questions as to whether there are incidents, including serious injuries to a child, that are not substantiated as child abuse. If substantiation is not occurring, we need to determine what the reasons are so we can fix it,” said Ward.

“The Task Force on Child Protection will build on the work we have already begun to fix the inadequacies in the present laws and help prevent the horrific indifference alleged at Penn State from happening again,” the senator said.

Contact:  Tom Aikens