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New Child Protective Services Law Broadens Definition of "Mandatory Reporter"

As Published in the June 2015 PELRAS Newsletter Update

Published on: Mon 8th Aug, 2016 By: Julie Aquino

You probably know by now that the recently amended Child Protective Services Law require pre-employment and triennial background clearances for employees, age fourteen or older, who have direct contact with children (hint: see the February PELRAS Update). Do you know that those amendments also greatly expanded which individuals are "mandatory reporters" of suspected child abuse in Pennsylvania?  

The new law names fifteen categories of adults over the age of 18 who are now mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. Included are, among others, the following individuals: (1) "an individual paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child"; (2) "a peace officer or law enforcement official"; (3) "an emergency medical services provider certified by the Department of Health"; (4) "an employee of a public library who has direct contact with children in the course of employment"; (5) "an employee of a child-care service who has direct contact with children in the course of employment"; (6) any individual supervised by a person listed under numbers 1 through 5 above who has direct contact with children in the course of employment; and, (7); an independent contractor.

The above list covers numerous municipal employees or volunteers. Accordingly, municipalities should identify and notify these employees and volunteers that they are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse under the new law. Similarly, it is advisable that these mandatory reporters receive training regarding their legal obligations. The penalties for a mandated reporter who willfully fails to report child abuse range from a misdemeanor of the second degree to a felony of the second degree.

Under the new law, child abuse must be reported by mandatory reporters when the person has "reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse under any of the following circumstances: (1) The mandated reporter comes into contact with the child in the course of employment, occupation and practice of a profession or through a regularly scheduled program, activity or service; (2) The mandated reporter is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child, or is affiliated with an agency, institution, organization, school, regularly established church or religious organization or other entity that is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child; (3) A person makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that an identifiable child is the victim of child abuse; or (4) An individual 14 years of age or older makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that the individual has committed child abuse." The statute also includes a revised definition of "child abuse," which was intentionally changed because the prior definition was considered to be too limited. See 23 Pa.C.S. § 6303(b.1).

Mandated reporters must make an immediate and direct report of suspected child abuse to ChildLine either electronically at www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis or by calling 1-800-932-0313. After making the report to ChildLine, the reporter is required to immediately notify the employer’s management or the employer’s designated agent of the report. Under the above-quoted criteria, the mandatory reporter does not need direct, first-hand knowledge in order to be required to make a report, and is required to report suspected abuse even if they learn of the abuse while off duty from work. As for employees or volunteers who are under 18 years of age, they are not "mandatory reporters" although they, of course, may report suspected child abuse to their supervisor when they have reasonable cause to do so. 

The new Child Protective Services Law also requires training in child abuse recognition and reporting, but it is not required for most municipal employees. The website http://www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov/ provides some information regarding training services. Providing training to mandatory reporters regarding their legal obligations is a best practice, although training is only currently required for persons applying for a license or certification issued by a licensing board of the Department of State, certain operators of institutions, facilities, or agencies which care for children and are subject to supervision by the Department of Human Services, and foster parents.