In October 2014, the General Assembly 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:
- background check requirements for volunteers who work with children and youth programs
- new definitions of mandated reporters.
Starting July 25, 2015, $20 in fees for a child abuse clearance and state police criminal background check required by the Child Protective Services Law will be waived for volunteers who work with children. The state Department of Human Services and the Pennsylvania State Police reduced the cost of both the child abuse and criminal history record checks from $10 to $8 for all other applicants. Read more. These changes are reflected below.
July 1, 2015 Update:
Today Governor Wolf signed House Bill 1276 (PN 1997), which became effective immediately.
House Bill 1276 was drafted to “clarify and make more explicit provisions” about which employees and adult volunteers, who work or volunteer with children, must “obtain criminal background check clearances and child abuse clearances.” The bill was intended to “clear up ambiguous aspects of the statute and to address concerns expressed by numerous volunteer-based organizations and other entities from across the Commonwealth that are affected by the new law.” Legislators were seeking to make the background check requirements “less onerous for adult volunteers who work with children” so that an appropriate “balance” is struck “between protecting children and not making the requirements for volunteers so onerous that the result is losing both volunteers and consequently programs that are beneficial to children.”
Highlights of the changes to the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) made by House Bill 1276 include:
- Reworks the definition of program, activity or service removing the “includes, but is not limited to” language before enumerating examples and adds some additional language to further flesh out definition.
- Establishes August 25, 2015 as the date by which new volunteers must have background checks and stipulates that existing volunteers (who have never had background checks or who have background checks older than 60 months) will have until July 1, 2016 to get the required background checks.
- Extends to 60 months (vs. 36 months) the time frame by which employees and volunteers must have their background checks updated.
- Expands the portability of the checks.
- Exempts volunteers, who are also students, from the background checks under specific conditions (e.g., the student is enrolled in school, the student is volunteering for an event on school grounds, the event is not for children who are part of a child-care service).
- Permanently waives the fees associated with volunteers completing state background checks (currently such state background checks cost a volunteer $20).
- Includes a presumption of “good faith” for agencies screening employees and volunteers.
1. BACKGROUND CHECKS – For a complete analysis of the July 1, 2015 amendments to the Child Protective Services Law, see the July 1, 2015 edition of the Children’s Justice and Advocacy Report.
a) Employees—Effective December 31, 2014
All individuals 14 years of age or older who apply for a paid position as an employee responsible for the welfare of a child or having direct contact with children will be required to submit the following information to their prospective employer, and thereafter, assuming the individual becomes employed, the same certifications will be required every 60 months:
- Pennsylvania Criminal History report from the Pennsylvania State Police, more information and forms;
- Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearances from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, more information and forms ; and
- Federal Criminal History report from the FBI, which shall include submission of the individual’s fingerprints. FBI Criminal History Report information.
b) Volunteers – Effective August 25, 2015 or July 1, 2016
- Pennsylvania Criminal History report from the Pennsylvania State Police, more information and forms (FREE after July 25, 2015);
- Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearances from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, more information and forms (FREE after July 25, 2015); and
- Federal Criminal History report from the FBI, which shall include submission of the individual’s fingerprints ($27.50-Conducted by Cogent). FBI Criminal History Report information.
However, only the Pennsylvania Criminal History report and the Certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services will be required for a volunteer if the following 3 conditions apply:
- the volunteer position is in fact unpaid;
- the prospective volunteer has been a Pennsylvania resident for a period of no less than 10 years immediately prior to the application for a volunteer position; and
- the prospective volunteer swears or affirms in writing that he/she is not disqualified from service under the provisions of the law. Download the disclosure statement.
A volunteer who also has background checks because of paid employment can use those checks for volunteering by showing the original document.
2. MANDATED REPORTING
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:
- 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).
- 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
A mandated reporter is required to make and immediate report of suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to suspect that the child is a victim of child abuse under any of the circumstances:
– The mandated reporter comes in to contact with the child in the course of employment, occupation and practice of a profession or through a regularly scheduled program, activity or service; or
– The mandated reporter is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child, or is affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or the entity that is directly responsible of the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child; or
– A person makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter than an identifiable child is the victim of child abuse; or
– An individual 14 years of age or older makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that the individual has committed child abuse.
Volunteer agencies and congregations have to have processes in place to record and keep background check information current.
Mandated Reporter Training: There is no current required training for volunteers, but it is considered a best practice so that volunteers know the signs of abuse and how to make a report. It could also be important for insurance purposes.
- On Demand, Online Training for Mandated Reporters is available from the PA Family Support Alliance for $30.00
- The Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA)
More Resources on recognizing or reporting child abuse:
- Keep Kids Safe PA is the state Department of Human Services hub for information related to critical components impacting child protection including:
- a link for mandated reporters to make reports of suspected child abuse electronically
- training on child abuse recognition and reporting, information related to clearances
- general information related to child protection.
- The Center for Children’s Justice whose mission is to promote community responsibility so every Pennsylvania child is protected from child abuse, including sexual abuse.
- Look Out for Child Abuse is a collaboration of the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, Department of Humanities and the Center on Children and the Law of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. It is designed to be a repository of information regarding child abuse and neglect, including assistance in filling an online child abuse report form.
- Department of Human Services Mandated Reporter Childline information
- Safe Church Program of Samaritan Counseling
- PA Child Welfare Resource Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work
- Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) offers training, including the Front Porch Project that helps individuals and communities respond to child abuse.
- County-by-county State of the Child Report
View LAMPa’s hunger resource page for childhood hunger information