Overhauled Pa. child abuse law demands more professionals report suspected cases

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    In the wake of failures highlighted by Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children, Pennsylvania reviewed and overhauled its child-abuse reporting law.

    The new rules start today.

    Teachers, doctors, nurses and even firefighters are among the professionals in Pennsylvania who are required to report suspected child abuse.

    Pediatrician Benjamin Levi says it used to be enough for so-called “mandated reporters” to simply tell a supervisor about their concerns.

    “It is now required by law that they report directly to the state to ChildLine with a phone call, or through an online reporting tool,” he said.

    The hotline number is 800-932-0313.

    Levi leads the Center for the Protection of Children at the PennState Hershey Children’s Hospital. The medical center developed a Website tool called iLook Out for Child Abuse to help child-care workers meet their responsibility.

    Mandated reporters don’t have to provide evidence of abuse, Levi said. Instead Pennsylvania wants professionals to speak up if there is “reasonable cause” to suspect that a child is being harmed.

    Under the law, the duty to report abuse extends beyond anything that comes to light on-the-job. Doctors, teachers and others who suspect abuse when they are working in volunteer roles are required to make a report, too.

    “It’s not just the child before you,” said Jefferson University Hospital psychiatrist Kenneth Certa. He says there’s a greater awareness now that doctors need to make a report if they learn about abuse while they are treating adults.

    “Especially in psychiatry, because we see a lot of individuals with behavioral disturbances and substance abuse who put their children at risk primarily through neglect because they are spending their evenings in a crack house leaving their dependent children at home,” Certa said.

    “Another change is the definition of child abuse has been expanded just a little bit to be very explicit that all kinds of sexual abuse are child abuse, mental abuse is part of the mix and other kinds of neglect,” Certa said.

    Levi said as long as a “mandated reporter” as people in these jobs are referred to, is acting to promote the interest of a child, he or she is protected from legal or civil prosecution.

    The Pennsylvania Medical Society has created several information sheets to help doctors get ready for the changes. Doctors and some other health professionals now need several hours of training to prepare them to spot child abuse. It’s now a condition of their license renewal.

    On the medical society Web site, one commenter listed as G. Alan Yeasted, M.D. asked “Why would they [state officials] require, for example, a pathologist or a geriatrician take two hours from their busy schedules to attend a session regarding child abuse?

    “Pathologists often come in contact with child abuse in the horrible sequelae of child abuse in the contact of autopsies,” Certa said. “Geriatricians can become aware of elderly patients who have developed a loss of sexual inhibitions based on their dementing illness who may be putting children at risk.”

    The medical society argued that instead of requiring mandatory continuing medical education, it would prefer that doctors are given the leeway to decide what that extra training is most relevant to their practice.

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