Overhaul sought of Pa. laws, agencies dealing with child abuse

    Activists in Pennsylvania are calling for a comprehensive reform of the state’s laws and agencies intended to identify and penalize child abuse.

    When it comes to facing down child abuse, children’s advocates say Pennsylvania comes up short. They point to one example–the state’s record of missing 9 percent of calls to its child abuse hotline.

    A bipartisan commission of both state House and Senate lawmakers could change problems like that right away, said Cathleen Palm of the Protect Our Children Committee.

    “Some of these other things about how we define child abuse and what we do in terms of pathways to service may take a little bit more time, and that can be parallel but also secondary to what the commission does,” she said.

    Rep. Scott Petri, a Republican of Bucks County, said a new state office could get past the hindrances that keep state agencies from sharing information on reported child abuse.

    “If you do not have an advocate who has the ability to cut through existing confidentiality provisions with subpoena power, you will not get the type of investigation that needs to be done,” he said. “And that’s what this child ombudsman, or child advocate would have.”

    Petri said the office would not pose a great expense because it could be housed within the state attorney general’s office with existing state staff.

    Palm says other problems include child-abuse reporting laws, which come with inconsistent penalties. She said such oversight is the result of a 2006 change made in response to another grand jury report.

    A commission, she said, would bring some urgency as well as some deliberation to the process.

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