This week, former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz entered guilty pleas in Dauphin County to charges of child endangerment.
At issue was the idea that they had been told of improper behavior by retired Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky with a child served by his Second Mile children’s charity and did not alert authorities. Sandusky was convicted of 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse charges in 2012, years after the incident.
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier is still set to go to trial for child endangerment Monday.
Sandusky’s conviction and the five-year drama around the three administrators’ cases has brought attention on the role of the mandated reporter.
“Mandated reporters are individuals who are required to report suspected child abuse,” said Kristina Taylor-Porter, executive director of the Centre County Child Advocacy Center.
“Their roles can be in a professional, volunteer or caregiver capacity, just to name a few,” she said. “Reporters have the distinct responsibility to be well informed of how to recognize signs of abuse and how to report suspected abuse.”
“Mandated reporters of child abuse are critical to protect children who have been victimized,” Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said. “When people refuse to report child abuse, our kiddos must be able to count on others in trusted positions to intervene and protect them.”
The problem is that sometimes victims can’t turn to the people closest to them.
“Often, family members or family friends are the very people that are causing child abuse,” Parks Miller said. “When others fail, the community must step up, report the suspected abuse and be the voice for our most tiny, precious population. They count on us for their safety and well-being.”
The Curley, Schultz and Spanier cases show how seriously the requirements are taken.
“While legal ramifications do exist for those who do not report suspected abuse, the ramifications of not reporting suspected child abuse could mean a child or children are subjected to continued abuse and that could mean life or death in some cases,” Taylor-Porter said. “Child abuse occurs within the confines of secrecy, having people within our community who are required to report their suspicions of abuse, provides some levels of protection for children. Professionals who respond, intervene, investigate and treat victims of child abuse cannot do it without a vigilant community member reporting their suspicions.”
So are they working? Are people actually making reports?
That’s hard to say. In Pennsylvania, reports can be made to ChildLine, a statewide service that allows anyone — mandated or not — to call in.
“The identity of the reporter is confidential; as a result the Children’s Advocacy Center is unaware if a mandated or passive reporter made the report,” Taylor-Porter said. “What we do know is that a child has been referred for collaborative and comprehensive services for suspected child abuse. According to the PA Family Support Alliance, the calls made to ChildLine, Pa.’s child abuse reporting agency, 75 percent of the calls are from mandated reporters.”