Harrisburg – The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Kim Ward (R-39), today approved her legislation that would increase penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse or refer it to authorities.
Senate Bill 1413 increases the penalties from a third- to a first-degree misdemeanor for the first violation, and from a second-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony for second and subsequent violations. The measure applies to mandated reporters — individuals who come into contact with children in the course of their profession and are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse.
“It’s a shame we have to increase the penalties to get some people to do the right thing, but in light of what we have been hearing this week about child abuse going unreported, it’s clear that this legislation is absolutely necessary,” said Ward.
Ward also sponsored Senate Resolution 250 creating the Task Force on Child Protection. The Task Force has held six hearings to date with another scheduled for Thursday. Among the topics discussed by the panel has been the issue of mandated reporting. Under SR 250, the panel must issue a final report with recommendations to strengthen child protection by November 30, 2012.
Task Force Chairman David Heckler said to Senator Ward, “Thanks to your initiative, and the unselfish work and thought of hundreds of dedicated individuals, we will produce a realistic blueprint for making Pennsylvania a better place for children to safely grow, learn and thrive.”
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.
“It is galling to hear accounts of child abuse going unreported, and know that in the 21st century we still need the force of law to prompt people to protect the vulnerable,” said Ward. “This legislation sends that message that looking the other way will no longer be tolerated. If you’re not motivated by pure instinct to protect a child, perhaps you’ll be motivated by self-preservation.”
The legislation will be sent to the full Senate for consideration.