Last Friday’s sentencing of Graham Spanier was alleged (by the Office of Attorney General’s Laura Ditka) to serve as a deterrent for the next person who has doubts about reporting suspected child abuse and allegedly would make Pennsylvania’s children safer.
Ditka apparently was sleepwalking through 2016 when the Pennsylvania auditor general announced that 42,000 calls to Child-Line went unanswered. The missed calls were a result of a 2014 amendment to the child abuse reporting law that widened the definition of abuse and included stiffer penalties for not reporting.
Prior to the laws being changed, a number of experts testified before the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection and warned legislators that changes to the law would result in a dramatic increase in calls and overwhelm the system. The net effect would be that a child protection system that was already spread too thin would be able to provide even less services and protection for children.
The experts were proven to be correct.
The deterrent Ditka spoke about was already in place — and not helping to keep children any safer.
The necessary changes in child protection that will keep Pennsylvania’s children safer won’t come about by punishing people. They’ll come about when the commonwealth owns up to the fact that its child protection system failed (in the Sandusky case and many others) because its caseworkers didn’t recognize the signs of child abuse.
Better trained caseworkers are the answer. Not more laws and tough sentencing.
Raymond Blehar, Annapolis