Confusion over child abuse reporting laws

    In Pennsylvania, social workers, school nurses and others who work with children are required to report suspected child abuse. But a new Pennsylvania survey suggests that many “mandated reporters” are confused about their responsibility.

    The nonprofit group, Protect Our Children Committee, surveyed about 1,400 mandated reporters across the state. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents said they’d never been trained–or their training was before 2006 when Pennsylvania overhauled its mandatory reporting law.

    “The reporter sees a kid with bruises, with swelling, or a kid who discloses sexual abuse and they pick up the phone and they make the call regardless of who it is that is potentially abusing that child,” said Cathleen Palm, who leads the Protect Our Children Committee.

    The 2006 law expanded the rules beyond parents and others close to a child. Now professionals must report suspected abuse by anyone including clergy and coaches.

    Palm said mandated-reporter training should be linked to continuing education requirements. She also wants a state-sponsored website where professionals can learn about their responsibility.

    It’s rare for mandated reporters to face arrest for violating the law. But last year, the owner of a day-care center in Adams County was charged. In 2008, Lebanon County prosecutors took a pediatrician to court. She was later found not guilty at trial.

    There is no required education for mandated reporters.

    “So we hold them legally obligated and hold them potentially criminally liable, but we never say you must be trained.” Palm said. “We just in general do not provide them with the tools or resources to be able to feel competent and confident in the work that we are asking them to do.”

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