A Clark County preschool teacher is charged with beating her daughter.
Police were called Wednesday night to search for Cheryl Lockhart’s daughter. It was reported that she hadn’t returned home from school. Authorities say the girl reported that she didn’t go home because she was afraid. The girl told social services that she was bruised when Lockhart pulled her down the stairs. Cheryl Lockhart, a teacher at Hannah McClure Elementary, was charged with second degree child abuse.
The school superintendent says they will decide on her job status once the matter is resolved.
Child abuse reports increase after new laws took effect Jan. 1
The new year brought new laws aimed at improving child abuse prevention and detection in Pennsylvania.
A total of 23 new laws went into effect as a result of recommendations by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Prevention following the Jerry Sandusky scandal in 2011. Implementation of the new laws have been staggered over the last couple months, but most went into effect Jan. 1.
“We have been very busy at the beginning of the year. More so than at this time last year,” Lisa Stevens, executive director of Schuylkill County Children & Youth Services, said Wednesday.
Among the major changes are the state’s definition of child abuse and who are considered mandatory reports and alleged perpetrators of abuse.
Bodily abuse was previously defined as “severe pain” and “serious impairment.” It is now legally characterized as causing “substantial pain.” The lower threshold for abuse has brought more cases to the Children & Youth staff.
“Many of those calls that were law enforcement referrals are now abuse cases,” Stevens said.
As of Jan. 14, Stevens said the agency has 42 reports of suspected abuse and 46 reports of abuse since the start of the year. There are also 270 pending non-abuse cases.
“We certainly don’t want to discourage any calls, but with the mandated reporting expansion, we are seeing an influx of calls,” Stevens said.
Anyone who comes into contact with a child or is directly responsible for their care and supervision is considered a mandatory reporter. Those who file a case of suspected child abuse in good faith are now protected by law from employment discrimination.
“Another big group of people it affects is teachers and anyone employed in a school setting,” Heidi Eckert, child abuse supervisor at the Schuylkill Children & Youth, said.
Previously, they were not considered perpetrators of abuse. Any allegations had to go through an internal review at the school and then the case would be referred to law enforcement, she said. Criminal charges would then lead to the involvement of Children & Youth. That process was also referred to as “chain-of-command” reporting.
“That whole protocol has been eliminated,” Eckert said.
As a mandatory reporter, any suspicions of abuse must be reported to the state within 48 hours or that person may face legal repercussions.
The failure to report suspected child abuse now carries harsher penalties. A first offense is now a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
Child abuse can also be the result of a caretaker’s failure to act, and now includes things like preventing a sibling from injuring a child. The definition was broadened to include “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” failing to prevent injury.
“That’s a different way of thinking for us because those words can be interpreted differently,” Eckert said. “Until case law is set on those definitions, it is going to be interesting.”
The definition of an alleged perpetrator was also expanded to include anyone responsible for the welfare of a child. Before the new regulations, some people who did not live with the child could be prosecuted for assault, but could not be put onto the state child abuse registry.
Now, the county department has been involved in more custody cases as Children & Youth is required to provide the court with information it was previously not privileged.
“We had no idea how many custody cases were going on in Schuylkill County until these new laws,” Stevens said.
Stevens said her department has been providing information for about 40 to 50 cases a month. Before the new regulations, she said it was about four or five cases a month.
Clearance requirements have also expanded to include anyone working with children and need to be updated every 36 months. All mandatory reporters are required to have three hours of state-approved training and continuing education on detecting child abuse and reporting procedures.
New regulations were being planned for the last several years, but Stevens said the Sandusky case excelled implementation.
Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison after being convicted of 45 counts of sex abuse in June 2012.
While some county agencies with smaller staffs may be having a harder time with the influx of new cases, Stevens said her department was already planning to add employees.
“We have some additional positions in our budget we have not filled yet,” Stevens said.
Stevens said three additional case worker positions were included in this year’s budget. Due to an increase in cases, Stevens said the positions will likely be used for a screener, an abuse investigator and a non-abuse investigator.
The county department currently has eight general intake workers and five child abuse specialists. Stevens said the original plan was to fill those positions by April, but that may now be moved up.
Tax Hacks 2015: 6 Things Sneaky Tax Preparers Won’t Tell You
It’s sad. Many highly ethical tax professionals are working hard to help taxpayers, but tax season brings out fraudsters, scammers and plain vanilla take-advantage-of-you-while-your-guard-is-down types. It can be hard to tell the difference.
From fraud to incompetence to hinky tricks to outright ripoffs, the field of tax preparation is a magnet for some of the worst consumer abuses. In the video above, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson describes common tax-time schemes to part you from your money. After watching, read on to find out what the worst tax preparers won’t tell you.
1. I’m incompetent and untrained.
Tax preparation is a mostly unregulated field. According to The National Consumer Law Center, in a report called “Riddled Returns: How Errors and Fraud by Paid Tax Preparers Put Consumers at Risk and What States Can Do”:
There are no minimum educational, training, competency or other standards. In 47 states, there are more regulatory requirements for hairdressers than tax preparers.
Preparers commit errors, misclassify taxpayers’ filing status, mishandle tax credits and even falsify information on tax returns, the report says. These aren’t just a few bad eggs, either. The problems involve “a significant percentage of the preparers tested,” the report says.
It’s no joke for taxpayers. “Consumers who select incompetent or unscrupulous preparers could face audits by the Internal Revenue Service or even criminal sanctions,” a NCLC statement warns.
Stay safe with tax preparation experts who are:
Licensed CPAs (certified public accountant).
IRS enrolled agents.
Trained volunteers with one of two programs, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or AARP Tax Aide (details below).
2. You could do this yourself.
Doing your own taxes saves the $273, on average, that National Society of Accountants says taxpayers will spend for tax preparation assistance this year. According to Huffington Post financial contributor Carrie Smith, you’re a good DIY candidate if you:
Have just one job.
No major changes in your income or filing status last year.
Own no property or investments.
Can understand the tax laws.
Are “a numbers person.”
Didn’t marry, divorce, lose a spouse or have a child last year.
Didn’t start a new business.
Aren’t easily overwhelmed by money issues.
One possible reason to consult an expert, Smith says, is that tax credits and deductions for dependents expire, depending on their ages:
If your child goes to college full-time, you can still claim them — and any education expenses — until they’re 24. Determining these situations accurately takes someone who is knowledgeable.
If you made less than $60,000 last year, you may use the IRS Free File tax prep software to prepare and file free of charge online. Free File uses electronic versions of IRS paper forms. You fill them out and file your taxes online. The software includes basic guidance only, however, so it’s best used if you’ve done your own taxes before.
3. You shouldn’t pay so much.
It can be hard to comparison shop for tax preparation services because preparers may be unwilling to quote a price or, if they do, give inaccurate quotes, according to The National Consumer Law Center report. If you can’t get a ballpark figure after describing your situation to a preparer, look for someone else.
It’s easy to try and compare the many tax preparation software products offered for free or cheap online for federal taxes, says Consumer Reports. Most don’t charge until you file your completed tax form, so CR recommends that you try programs and then close them before filing if you don’t like the price they quote.
4. Don’t click on those pop-ups.
There’s a cavalcade of free online tax preparation products, but they are free only if you ignore the options for upgrades. Stick with the no-frills versions of online products by turning a blind eye to pop-ups that offer enhanced services with fees attached.
5. You could get free help.
Some tax preparers will take your money although they know full well you qualify for free tax prep services. Before paying for tax help, check the options.
Free tax preparation is available from IRS-trained volunteers through VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. You qualify if you are older than 65 or make less than $53,000 a year. People with disabilities and limited English-speaking abilities are eligible, too. VITA volunteers help with basic state and federal tax returns. Use VITA’s online locator tool to find help near you.
The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program offers free tax help from IRS-trained volunteer for anyone, although it is focused especially on older Americans. Use AARP’s online locator to find help near you or call 888-227-7669.
For more free tax prep options, read Tax Hacks 2015: 8 Ways to Get Free Help Preparing Your Taxes.
6. You can get your refund quickly without these crazy fees.
Try to wait the roughly two-to-three weeks it takes to receive your refund and, if you can, avoid instant-refund products because of the ridiculously steep fees. The IRS describes these products:
If you file electronically, your tax preparer or tax preparation and filing software may suggest you purchase a bank product that typically sets up a temporary bank account to receive your income tax refund. Such bank products include, but are not limited to, refund anticipation loans, refund anticipation checks, gift cards and debit cards.
Federally regulated banks no longer make refund anticipation loans. But you’ll find them elsewhere, writes USA Today, citing an example of a refund loan with 273 percent interest.
Here are safe ways to get your refund as quickly as possible:
If you can’t pay the tax prep fee. Instead of getting a refund anticipation check to cover your tax prep costs, see if you can use one of the many no-cost tax preparation options.
If you don’t have a bank account. If you e-file, you can get your refund loaded onto a prepaid card or payroll card, says CreditCards.com. Or consider Walmart’s (WMT) new Direct2Cash tax refund service: Use a participating (non-electronic) tax-prep service (Walmart often has them in-store) and pick up your refund at a Walmart location after receiving a confirmation code in the mail. “Cash refunds will be available in roughly the same amount of time it takes for a direct deposit to show up in a filer’s account,” USA Today says. Walmart charges nothing, and the tax preparer can charge no more than $7 for the service.
If you have a checking account. Have the IRS deposit your refund directly into it, saving you from waiting for the mail to deliver your check.
If you just want the money fast. Also, U.S. News says that IRS data shows early filers get their returns in 21 days, on average, compared with longer waits for those who file later. Also, e-filing (filing electronically rather than sending a paper form by snail mail) puts your return in IRS hands faster.