In Pennsylvania, a mandated reporter is required to make a report to ChildLine when he or she has a reasonable cause to suspect that a child is the victim of child abuse or neglect. A permissive reporter is encouraged to report suspected child abuse but is not required to do so by law.
Pennsylvania enacted its first law mandating certain professionals to report suspected child abuse in 1963. Because some of the definitions within Pennsylvania law were unclear or required a high threshold to be considered child abuse, Pennsylvania’s child abuse reporting rates have historically been 9 to 10 times lower than the national average. The new child abuse laws addressed these issues by clarifying the definition of child abuse and lowering the threshold for mandated reporting.
Mandated reporters are certain adults who are required to make a report of suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of abuse (PDHS, 2016). In general, any individual paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, is responsible for the child’s welfare or has direct contact with children is now considered a mandated reporter. Mandated reporters are required to report suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse.
Mandated reporters must familiarize themselves with the following changes and clarifications to Pennsylvania child abuse law:
- The definition of physical abuse has changed from serious injury to bodily injury.
- The threshold for pain inflicted has been changed from severe to substantial.
- Certain acts, such as kicking, throwing, burning, or biting can be considered abuse regardless of whether the act results in injury to the child.
- The definition of abuse now includes exposing children to potentially harmful medical evaluations or treatment.
- A one-time event of neglect that is egregious in nature is considered neglect. Neglect no longer needs to be prolonged or repeated.
Another key change involves school employees—if you are a school employee and you suspect abuse has occurred, you are now required to call or electronically report to ChildLine directly and then notify someone in the school district of the report.
Under Pennsylvania law, the following adults are considered mandated reporters and are required to report suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse:
- A person licensed or certified to practice in any health-related field under the jurisdiction of the Department of State
- Medical examiners, coroners, and funeral directors
- Employees of a healthcare facility or provider licensed by the Department of Health, who are engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of individuals
- School employees
- Employees of a child-care service who have direct contact with children in the course of employment
- Clergymen and women, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization
- An individual paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, is responsible for the child’s welfare or has direct contact with children
- Employees of a social services agency who have direct contact with children in the course of employment
- Peace officers or law enforcement officials
- Emergency medical services providers certified by the Department of Health
- Employees of a public library who have direct contact with children in the course of employment
- An individual supervised or managed by a person listed under paragraphs (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), (10), (11), and (13), who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
- Independent contractors
- Attorneys affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or other entity, including a school or regularly established religious organization that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children
- Foster parents
- An adult family member who is a person responsible for the child’s welfare and provides services to a child in a family living home, community home for individuals with an intellectual disability or host home for children which are subject to supervision or licensure by the department under Articles IX and X of the act of June 13, 1967 (P.L. 31, No. 21), known as the Public Welfare Code (KKSP, 2015b)
Attorneys as Mandated Reporters
In 2012 the Task Force on Child Protection recommended that attorneys be added to the list of persons required to report child abuse. Disagreement to the recommendation arose, partly related to the feeling that requiring attorneys to report child abuse would encroach on the Supreme Court’s authority to regulate the legal profession and affect attorney/client privilege (Thompson, 2014).
Eventually a compromise was reached and now an attorney affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or other entity, including a school or regularly established religious organization that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children is a mandated reporter.
To address the issue of privileged and confidential communications, the following changes were made to statute § 6311.1, which also describes confidential communications with the clergy:
- General rule.—Subject to subsection (b), the privileged communications between a mandated reporter and a patient or client of the mandated reporter shall not:
- Apply to a situation involving child abuse.
- Relieve the mandated reporter of the duty to make a report of suspected child abuse.
- Confidential communications.—The following protections shall apply:
- Confidential communications made to a member of the clergy are protected under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5943 (relating to confidential communications to clergymen).
- Confidential communications made to an attorney are protected so long as they are within the scope of 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 5916 (relating to confidential communications to attorney) and 5928 (relating to confidential communications to attorney), the attorney work product doctrine or the rules of professional conduct for attorneys (PGA, 2016).
Child Protective Services Law defines permissive reporters—persons encouraged to report suspected child abuse—saying that any person may make an oral or written report of suspected child abuse. Although permissive reporters are encouraged to report suspected child abuse, they are not required to do so by law.
Permissive reporters can make a report at any time they suspect a child is the victim of child abuse and, as with mandated reporters, they do not have to determine whether the person meets the definition of perpetrator in order to make the report (KKSP, 2015c).
Permissive reporters can make a report to ChildLine by calling 800 932 0313, and there is nothing more for the reporter to do after making that report. The county children and youth agency must begin an investigation within 24 hours if the report is a Child Protective Services case.