Who rings the alarm bell, and when and how? Finally, it will be clear.

April 7, 2014

By Angela Liddle

It’s been a little more than 16 months since the state’s Task Force on Child Protection handed over their heavy-to-lift report of recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. More than 400 pages in all; filled with thought-out suggestions designed to increase the safety of our state’s most fragile population: our children.

As the winter winds were blowing last December, Governor Corbett signed several pieces of what was early on termed a ”package” of child welfare bills into law. Those bills changed the definition of child abuse in a way that hopefully means children will suffer less before our child welfare system can intervene.  And those who can be considered “perpetrators” of child abuse under the law expanded so that the system can act more swiftly to best protect children.

Now, just a few days into April, nationally acclaimed as Child Abuse Prevention Month, we anxiously await passage of the bills related to mandatory reporting. Mandated reporters (think people who work with kids through their profession and employment) have historically made more reports of child abuse than any other source. They are the ones who ring the alarm bell to child welfare that a child or teen is not safe and likely needs help. With this next round signed into law we will have more bell ringers—and they will be better prepared for the critical role they play in child protection.

For far too many years, we have ignored the valuable role volunteers play in key positions within organizations that serve children. Not any longer. Soon, a segment of volunteers will join the ranks of persons required to report. In some organizations, it is the volunteers who spend the quality time with children and teens. Finally, we will have established training requirements for those professionals who hold certified or licensed positions and work with children. This makes for higher quality reports to child welfare and kids who are better protected. We are moving closer to zero tolerance. We are moving closer to a time when it will no longer be acceptable to say,“I didn’t know what to do.”  Clarification will also be outlined for when a mandated reporter is required to report and additional protection from employment discrimination is given to anyone who makes a report of suspected child abuse.

I suppose in this season of renewal and rebirth it is appropriate to say that hope springs eternal… perhaps in the next season we will be talking about how to get every single adult in Pennsylvania to recognize that they too have a role to play in keeping kids safe.  If you want to learn more about how you can protect PA’s kids, visit www.pa-fsa.org.