To protect children from abuse, Pennsylvania needs a state-of-the-art, well-stocked toolbox. After the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal laid bare the state’s child-protection deficiencies, legislators overhauled our laws and equipped the box with tools that work. We now have mandatory child abuse clearances and criminal history background checks for those professionals and some volunteers who are directly responsible for children.
One of the criticisms about background checks, frequently raised by opponents, is that they will not catch every child molester nor would they have stopped Sandusky from perpetrating his serial abuse. When it comes to known abusers, however, that assertion is patently false. In fact, Sandusky had an indicated-child abuse record in 2009. If proper vetting of him had been done, that report would have surfaced and action could have been taken to better protect children.
Another essential element of our child-protection toolbox, training for mandated reporters of child abuse, got a tremendous boost last month. The state Department of Human Services awarded Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance an up-to-five-year, $2.5 million contract to provide statewide, comprehensive mandated-reporter training. PFSA’s selection is a testament to the soundness of our approach, the depth of our curriculum, and the professionalism and knowledge of our child-welfare trainers and staff. Through this contract, PFSA will train thousands of additional mandated reporters of child abuse in every region of the commonwealth.
PFSA’s face-to-face training, Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse, is one of only a few curricula approved by the Pennsylvania departments of Human Services, Education and State, is eligible for Act 48 credits, and meets the requirements for training under Acts 126 and 31.
Research conducted in 2014 at PFSA’s behest by Franklin and Marshall College showed that mandated reporters who are trained are five times more likely to accurately and completely report suspected child abuse. While employers and individuals might have great anxiety about their exposure to liability, there are severe consequences under law for failing to report suspected abuse and greater danger posed to children when those responsible fail to report suspected abuse. The duty to protect children far outweighs any fear, uncertainty or embarrassment about how to recognize and report cases of suspected child abuse.
Pennsylvania’s child-protection toolbox is sturdy and can be effective if individuals and employers are diligent about obtaining necessary clearances and background checks, completing comprehensive training on child-abuse recognition and reporting, and introducing and enforcing solid policies and practices that limit unsupervised one-on-one contact with children. We cannot afford to remove a single tool if we are to fix a system that for far too long failed to adequately protect our most vital and precious resource — our children. To learn more about no-cost, on-site mandated reporter training and our full suite of training options including on-demand and train-the-trainer programs, contact PFSA at 800-448-4906 or visit us at www.pa-fsa.org. Everyone has a role to play in protecting Pennsylvania’s children.
Angela Liddle is president and CEO of Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance.