A Child, an Act, and a Perpetrator
Under Pennsylvania law, child abuse has three components:
- A child, which is an individual under the age of 18,
- An act (or failure to act), and
- A perpetrator.
An act is something that is done to harm or cause potential harm to a child. A failure to act is when something is not done to prevent harm or potential harm to a child. Child abuse can occur from either an act that causes harm or a failure to act that causes harm.
In Pennsylvania law, “recent act or failure to act” is any act or failure to act committed within two years of the date of the report to the Department or agency.
By Pennsylvania law, a “perpetrator” is a person who has committed child abuse and is a parent of a child, a person responsible for the welfare of a child, an individual residing in the same home as the child, or a paramour of the child’s parent (PA Code, 2016). The term includes the following:
- The child’s parent.
- A spouse or former spouse of the child’s parent.
- A paramour or former paramour of the parent.
- A person 14 years of age or older and responsible for the child’s welfare or having direct contact with children as an employee of a child-care service, a school, or through a program, activity, or service.
- An individual 14 years of age or older who resides in the same home as the child.
- A relative who is 18 years of age or older who does not reside in the same home as the child but is related within the third degree of consanguinity* or affinity by birth or adoption to the child. (PDHS, 2015)
- An individual 18 years of age or older who engages a child in severe forms of trafficking or sex trafficking, as those terms are defined under section 103 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
- *Consanguinity: a blood relation, someone descended from the same ancestor as another person.
A perpetrator of child abuse for failing to act can be:
- A parent of the child.
- A spouse or former spouse of the parent.
- A paramour or former paramour of the parent.
- A person 18 years of age or older who is responsible for the child’s welfare or who resides in the same home as the child. (PDHS, 2015)
Pennsylvania law specifies that the term “perpetrator” also includes any person who has direct or regular contact with a child through any program, activity, or service sponsored by a school, for-profit, or religious or other not-for-profit organization such as camps; athletic programs; enrichment programs; or troops, clubs, or similar organizations (PDHS, 2015).
A perpetrator can be a stranger, and abuse by a stranger is reportable.
Did You Know . . .
When a healthcare provider makes a report of suspected abuse, he or she should avoid referring to the suspect as a perpetrator—it is a prejudicial term when used in this manner and can be construed in family law court or criminal court as showing that the reporting party was not being objective. It is not the role of a healthcare provider to make a judgement—it crosses the line into an investigatory role, which is the domain of law enforcement and social services.
Inclusion of School Employees
Prior to December 31, 2014, only incidents of sexual abuse or exploitation and serious bodily injury by a school employee were considered child abuse under the CPSL. There was a separate reporting and investigation process in place for other types of abuse. Now the current law allows for school employees to be considered perpetrators under the definition provided for “person responsible for the child’s welfare” or person “having direct contact with children.”
§ 6303. Definitions:
- “School employee.” An individual who is employed by a school or who provides a program, activity or service sponsored by a school. The term does not apply to administrative or other support personnel unless the administrative or other support personnel have direct contact with the children.
- “Person responsible for the child’s welfare.” A person who provides permanent or temporary care, supervision, mental health diagnosis or treatment, training or control of a child in lieu of parental care, supervision, and control.
- “Direct contact.” The care, supervision, guidance or control of children OR routine interaction with children.
Pennsylvania School Law requires that all applicants for employment in public and private schools, employees of independent contractors seeking business with public and private schools, and student teacher candidates undergo background checks if they will have direct contact with students. The following three background checks are required:
- Department of Human Services Child Abuse History Clearance
- Pennsylvania State Police Request for Criminal Records Check
- Federal Criminal History Record Information (CHRI)
Under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, school volunteers who are responsible for the child’s welfare or who have “direct volunteer contact” with children at a school (i.e., the care, supervision, guidance, or control of children and routine interaction with children) are required to have background checks (PDOE, 2018).