Child Protection Changes in PA
In October 2014, the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett completed a two-year effort to improve Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, with a series of bills that were officially part of the House and Senate child protection packages and based on recommendations of the Task Force on Child Protection. Two areas that will be of particular interest to churches and ministries are new definitions of mandated reporters and background check requirements for volunteers who work with children and youth programs.
On October 22, Governor Corbett signed into law House Bill 435 (now Act 153 of 2014). The measure, sponsored by Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams), establishes new background check requirements for individuals who volunteer with children. Volunteers, including volunteers who work with children and youth in churches, will be required to submit a state background check and a child abuse clearance statement to the congregation. If volunteers haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for 10 consecutive years, they will also have to submit a federal background check. Additionally, volunteers and people who work with children in a professional capacity will have to submit updated clearances every three years.
Required background checks include:
1. PA State Police Criminal History Record Information
2. Child Abuse History certified by the department as to whether the person is named as a perpetrator of an indicated or founded child abuse report
3. Federal Criminal History Background Check (with submission of fingerprints). FBI checks will not be required for volunteers if they have been a resident of the Commonwealth for the prior 10 years.
The Patriot News summarizes the new law in Want to Volunteer in a Kid’s Program in Pennsylvania? Prepare for Background Checks. Serious felonies and most types of sex crimes would automatically disqualify volunteers, along with any reports of child abuse or drug law convictions from the previous five years. All clean checks are good for three years, after which they must be renewed.
MANDATED REPORTER UPDATE
If you suspect a child may be abused, please call 1-800-932-0313 — Pennsylvania’s state child abuse reporting hotline. If you believe a child is in immediate danger, please call 911 to enlist the assistance of police. Check here for resources on reporting child abuse from the Center for Children’s Justice and Look Out for Child Abuse, including assistance in filling an online child abuse report form.
Pennsylvania has clarified and expanded its list of who is a mandated reporter in the commonwealth. Read the entire list here. Mandated reporters in the new law include:
6. A clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization.
NOTE: Section 6311.1 (b) include the “following protections” (1) “Confidential communications made to a member of the clergy are protected under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5943 (relating to confidential communications to clergymen).
7. 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, accepts responsibility for a child.
NOTE: A program, activity or service is defined as the following: A public or private educational, athletic or other pursuit in which children participate. The term includes, but is not limited to, the following:
• A youth camp or program
• A recreational camp or program
• A sports or athletic program
• An outreach program
• An enrichment program
• A troop, club or similar organization
Child Protection Resources:
Department of Human Services Mandated Reporter Childline information
Safe Church Program of Samaritan Counseling
Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) offers training, including the Front Porch Project that helps individuals and communities respond to child abuse.