A recent article about a Penn Township case highlights the importance of Pennsylvania's Mandated Reporter law in child abuse cases. It reports that the mother of a defendant sentenced for sexually abusing a child had earlier pleaded guilty to failing to report the girl's allegations that the son had abused the girl.
In this case, the mother was working as an independent living case worker with the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau. This meant that she was one of the 16 classes of individuals required by Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law to report suspected child abuse to authorities.
Pennsylvania's Mandated Reporter Law
The Mandated Reporter law is designed to help make sure that suspected child abuse is reported. It requires certain types of individuals who may come into contact with children in their professional capacities to report suspected child abuse. Mandated Reporters include licensed healthcare workers, medical personnel, school employees, child-care employees, clergy, social workers, law enforcement officers, foster parents, and others.
Reporting is required whether or not the Mandated Reporter works directly with the child or if anyone tells the reporter that an “identifiable child is the victim of child abuse.” This applies whether or not the suspected abuser is a family member. Notably, the Mandated Reporter isn't required to identify who the abuser is, only that the child may be the victim of child abuse. This helps avoid potential problems such as spousal privilege preventing a Mandatory Reporter from making a report of child abuse where the reporter's spouse was the suspected abuser.
The ChildLine Program
Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services operates a program called ChildLine. It accepts reports of suspected child abuse 24 hours a day, seven days a week via a toll-free number as well as an online reporting form. Reports made to ChildLine are forwarded to the appropriate Pennsylvania investigative agency for follow-up.
Penalties for Failure to Report
Mandated Reporters who fail to report suspected child abuse face criminal penalties. These can range from a second-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony, depending on whether the failure to report was willful or not, whether it's the Mandated Reporter's second (or additional) offense, or whether the child abuse that was not reported was a first-degree felony or worse.
Unsure About Your Role as a Mandated Reporter?
If you're unsure about whether or not you are a Mandated Reporter under Pennsylvania law, check first with your supervisor or someone else in your organization to who you report. The Mandated Reporter program has been widely publicized in Pennsylvania, and if you are part of it, it's likely that your employer is very aware of it. Even if you aren't a Mandatory Reporter, Pennsylvania law encourages “any person” to make a report of suspected child abuse if you have “reasonable cause to suspect” that a child has been abused. These reports can be made anonymously.
What to Do if You're Charged With Failing to Report Abuse
If you are facing charges that you were required to but failed to report child abuse, you need the help of an experienced criminal law attorney. Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping clients in Pennsylvania who have been accused of a wide range of crimes, including crimes related to child abuse. He and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have an extensive understanding of Pennsylvania's child protection laws and the operations of the ChildLine service. They can help you understand the legalities of your situation and defend your rights both during the investigation and in court.