Panel recommends changes to Pa. hot line for reporting child abuse

    The panel charged with reviewing Pennsylvania’s laws on child abuse has issued its final report to Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature.

    A few of its recommendations concern the state’s child abuse hot line.

    Childline works 24/7 to take reports of child abuse. But it has long frustrated advocates and doctors who point to long hold times and a high number of dropped calls.

    The law creating Childline requires it to employ only full-time workers. Those slots are hard to fill – harder still because of the sometimes mandatory overtime that comes with the job.

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    One of the panel’s suggestions for the understaffed hot line is to allow it to hire part-time employees, says Dr. Rachel Berger, a member of the PA Task Force on Child Protection.

    “There are many former and active child protective services workers who have a tremendous amount of experience who could staff – it doesn’t have to physically be at Childline – who could help staff this and provide additional coverage,” said Berger, a Pittsburgh-area pediatrician specializing in child abuse.

    She also characterized Childline’s methods of relaying reports to the police and other agencies as a “game of telephone,” and says the office should adopt more efficient ways of taking and sharing information.

    The panel also recommends erasing the 15-month lifespan of child abuse reports, which its members say limits advocates’ ability to track both victims and perpetrators.

    A direct response to Sandusky case

    The group was created in the months after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal came to light. One panel member says some recommendations are in direct response to the debacle.

    Attorney Jason Kutulakis noted the task force’s proposal to change to the law allowing reports of child abuse within an institution to go up the chain of command.

    “We saw that at Penn State. There was supposed to be the report up through the designated individual, in this case, (former university president) Graham Spanier,” Kutulakis said Tuesday. “This has been changed in these amendments to require the person, the individual, who discovers the abuse to report it immediately to Childline.”

    The panel recommends that after calling Childline, those required to report abuse should also be compelled to tell their supervisors at the institution, to make it even less likely the abuse report is buried.

    Had such requirements been in place at Penn State, Kutulakis says, former graduate assistant Mike McQueary and a school janitor who witnessed abuse by Sandusky would have been required to file a report with the state.

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