The Task Force on Child Protection released its report recommending several changes to existing state laws governing child abuse Nov. 27 in Harrisburg, and the policy arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops was quick to praise the task force’s work.

In the wake of the child sex abuse scandal that resulted in the conviction last year of former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, the 11-member panel was created by Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly to examine the state’s laws and procedures designed to protect children from abuse.

“The task force’s recommendations call for what is essentially a complete rewriting of the Child Protective Services Law – such as redefining and clarifying what constitutes child abuse itself, and expanding the list of those who are required to report child abuse to Pennsylvania’s ChildLine,” said Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, chairman of the task force.

Suspected abuse may be reported anytime to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

The report also calls for upgrading some crimes and adding new offenses, transforming the way information about child abuse is handled and maintained, how crimes are investigated, and how people who are responsible for the wellbeing of children are trained.

A statement by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said it would review the task force’s report and support recommendations that strengthen reporting, screening and educational requirements for adults who interact with children.

The Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania have in recent years required training and extensive background checks for both employees and volunteers who have substantial contact with minors. The Church has trained hundreds of thousands of adults engaged in Church ministries about creating a safe environment for children.

Specifically, the Church trains those who have substantial contact with children to recognize signs of abuse and to understand their responsibility to take action if abuse is suspected.
Students also receive instruction in age-appropriate child abuse awareness programs. Many of the stringent reporting and training requirements were implemented following the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which examined child abuse in the Church.

Several Pennsylvania dioceses and other Catholic organizations submitted written comments to the task force in support of tougher mandatory reporting laws, less red tape for background checks and more awareness of child abuse prevention.

In addition to contributing to the task force process, the PCC supported legislation sponsored by Sen. Pat Vance of Cumberland County that requires school employees and independent contractors to provide training on child abuse recognition and reporting to their employees who have direct contact with children.

The bill was signed into law July 5 by Gov. Corbett and takes effect at the end of the year.