Changes needed to Pa. child abuse law

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The Pennsylvania Task force on Child Protection recommended sweeping changes in the commonwealth’s child abuse law that could help make the state safer for children.
The legislative commission concluded Tuesday after a year of study prompted by Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on molestation charges.

Sandusky, a 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60 year-old state prison sentence after being convicted this summer of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys. He maintains his innocence and is pursuing appeals.

Penn State’s former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz face related charges for their actions in response to complaints about Sandusky acting inappropriately with children in university showers.

Sandusky and the Roman Catholic priest molestation scandals prompt the creation of the task force.

To its credit, the task force recommended a comprehensive plan rather than simply react to recent child abuse scandals.

“We propose a transformation in the way information concerning child abuse is handled and maintained, the way in which crimes against children are investigated in parts of the state, and the way in which those with a responsibility for the well-being of children are trained,” said David Heckler, the Bucks county district attorney who chaired the 11-member panel.

Highlights of the recommendations include:

•Increase the use of investigative teams from various fields for child abuse cases.

•Expand the definition of abuse. Under current law, the definition of child abuse is narrowly defined and has higher bar than many other states. Under current law, children have to show they experienced severe pain in order to substantiate abuse claims. The panel said that requirement should be eliminated and a lower bar established.

•Harsher penalties when people who are required to report abuse fail to do so.

The panel recommends that people who knowingly act to prevent police or child welfare workers from learning of abuse in order to protect someone be subject to the child endangerment criminal statue.

When the state legislature convenes for a new two-year session in January it should move to make the task force recommended changes to the child abuse law.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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