Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stricter Child Abuse Laws in Effect Key Changes Include Lower Injury Standard, New 'Abuser' Definition

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stricter Child Abuse Laws in Effect Key Changes Include Lower Injury Standard, New 'Abuser' Definition

Article excerpt

Child care advocates hope a major package of child abuse laws that took effect this week in Pennsylvania will prevent more children at risk from slipping through the cracks.

The new regulations, a result of the recommendations from the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection that convened in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, expand the state's definition of child abuse, clarify who is a mandatory reporter and an alleged perpetrator of such abuse, and modernize record keeping, among other changes.

Pennsylvania had been considered an outlier among states for having a high threshold for what constitutes child abuse and far fewer reports of such abuse, said Cathleen Palm, founder of The Center for Children's Justice in Berks County.

"Sandusky was the tipping point, but Pennsylvania's law/ practices really left too many children unprotected from serious physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect for years," she said, referring to the 2012 conviction of the retired Penn State University assistant football coach on a string of child sex assaults.

The law combines 21 pieces of legislation, most of which took effect Wednesday. Among the key changes is what legally is considered abuse - one that Mary Carrasco, director of A Child's Place at Mercy, considers most significant.

Previously, the law said a child must suffer "serious physical injury," but that standard has been lowered to "bodily injury" which requires "impairment of a physical condition" or substantial pain rather than severe pain or "lasting impairment." Dr. Carrasco recalled an instance in which an emergency room doctor reported a possible child abuse case after treating a child with a cigarette burn. When a Children, Youth and Families employee asked the doctor if the child had suffered "serious" pain, the doctor said no.

Also under the new law, the definition of who commits child abuse has been expanded to include relatives who don't live with the child and a parent's former spouse or significant other. …

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