23 new child protection laws took effect Jan. 1

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania’s Task Force on Child Protection is touting the state legislature for passing 23 new laws that took effect on January 1 that aim to protect children from abuse.

The task force was commissioned by the General Assembly and Governor Tom Corbett in January 2012, two months after Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sexual abuse charges.

Many of the new laws close loopholes in the way background checks are performed and how information is shared.

“How many times have we heard on the news about a heinous crime happening to a child and then they report, ‘well, this guy that did this was arrested several times before this in other places for doing basically the same thing’,” Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams County) said in a press conference Wednesday. “Hopefully with this child protection package, that will never happen again.”

Kathy Utz is the acting deputy secretary of Children, Youth & Families. She said in the past county case workers could share information when it came to instances of abuse, but could not see data on families that had received services or been investigated in the past.

“While the counties had information on every single child they served, that wasn’t available at the statewide level,” Utz said. “Through the use of our new system, we will actually be able to build a database that shows that family was served in another county and will arm our workers with additional information on where they need to go to find more information about the family that’s before them today.”

In addition, the laws also expand mandatory reporting responsibilities and training, and add whistle-blower protection for those who report suspected child abuse.

Utz said background checks are also now required for everyone who either works or volunteers with children, but admitted some organizations will need to “self regulate” — or risk criminal charges.

“If a background check is not performed and then it’s revealed that someone you hired has a history, you could face repercussions,” she said.

Department of Human Services (DHS) officials said they have stream-lined the background check process. For more information, go to www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov.

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