PA Child Abuse Background Checks Law

Pennsylvania  –  Nearly 152,000 requests for child abuse clearances poured into the ChildLine office of the state Department of Human Services in the first two months after a new background check law took effect on Dec. 31.

Out of those applications that have been processed, 185 – less than 1 percent – were submitted by individuals with some history of child abuse.

Given that small percentage, is this law that requires anyone who has routine interaction with children in a work or volunteer capacity to obtain criminal background checks and a child abuse clearance overkill?

You would be hard-pressed to find any child advocate to say that. Rather they say if anything, it is a reason to celebrate the fact that perpetrators of child abuse were prevented from gaining access to children.

Yet even advocates are seeing a world of confusion surrounding the new law and believe some tweaking could help the public better understand what it requires.

That work is already underway. A bi-partisan team from the House and Senate are working on legislation that is hoped to reach Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk by late spring. Assisting with that work are representatives from the human services department, Department of Education and Pennsylvania State Police.

“We’re looking to make it more explicit in statute so we don’t have an over-reliance on guidelines from the Department of Human Services,” said House Children and Youth Committee executive director Greg Grasa.

The need for clarity became apparent when some lawmakers’ offices were barraged with questions in recent months about who exactly was subject to the background checks requirement that must be updated every three years, and when they needed to get them. Other concerns include the fees attached to checks, which can run close to $50.

Hearing the real-world scenarios made it evident a little more work on the law to address the ambiguities was required. But Grasa made it clear that those working on clarifying the law in no way are looking to roll back the background check requirement.

That was a concern for Center for Children’s Justice founder Cathleen Palm.

“We had been worried that given all the confusion and anxiety, we felt there was an opportunity to walk it back but it doesn’t appear that people are trying to walk it back at all,” Palm said.

Requiring employees and adult volunteers who work directly with children on an ongoing basis to obtain state – and in some cases, federal – criminal background checks along with child abuse clearances is what she considers the gold standard.

“Having the state dictate which background checks need to be done, I don’t think you’ll find that in other states,” she said.

She said the proactive stance in mandating these requirements, although not a total panacea to the problem of preventing child abuse, makes Pennsylvania a leader in child protection nationally and she doesn’t want to see it backslide by weakening that law.

Neither does Bucks County District Attorney Dave Heckler, who chaired the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection formed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal to look at flaws in the state’s child protection laws.

Heckler said Pennsylvania ranked pretty poorly in terms of its background check requirements, which led to the task force’s recommendation to strengthen them.

Even though the new law has drawn criticism about the expense and bother involved in getting the checks and having to update them every three years, Heckler said, “I would absolutely stand by it. … This is for the protection of children, not the convenience of adults.”

He said the state might find ways to make the process for getting the checks more efficient and perhaps less expensive, “but the idea that we would get rid of these requirements, uh huh. We’re trying to protect children. We did a wretched, wretched job of it before and Jerry Sandusky is the classic poster child, but he is far from being alone.”

7 thoughts on “PA Child Abuse Background Checks Law”

  1. I’m not sure if I’d be for or against a law like this in my home state. It seems like a lot of red tape and red tape never solves real problems, especially pervasive issues like child abuse. However, it would raise more awareness and that’s always a good thing.

    I suppose I’d like to see the results of this law 10-20 years from now on PA. Right now I have serious doubts if it could do much good at all because it seems like it’s designed to give people a false sense of security instead of preventing real abuse through true awareness and education. (He/she passed the check so therefore he/she MUST be safe.)

    If someone’s abusing their own child or children they know they’re not statistically likely to get caught and so not very likely to fail this background check. Complete strangers harming children is very rare and once this stranger is caught he or she will have a very public legal paper trail behind them anyway.

    Hmm. If this program saves even one child I suppose it is vital but I don’t like the false sense of security it implies/promises. That in itself is very, very dangerous and could end up harming even more children in the long run because people are often lazy in general and they’ll just naturally want to let their guard down at the first opportunity of implied “safety.”

    1. My Friend, I like the issues you list, but from my point of view, almost every parent in this world is either living in a bubble, they are ignorant, or they just don’t care.
      Notice I said “almost” every parent, the few that truly monitor childrens every minute on the internet and have strict parental controls set, monitor their phone use, television use, support and accompany their children to activities, at least are trying to safe-guard their children.
      But you and I know…. all it takes is a matter of minutes.
      I appreciate your input, don’t be a stranger, you are welcome any time!!!!

    1. I agree, and of course people don’t like to accept their part of the blame, but just dumping your kids off anywhere just so you could have a night out makes it especially your fault if you didn’t even slip by and check on them.

    2. You know what I couldn’t believe, the idiots that took the time to showup, then would lie on the background check.
      I appreciate your input Alan, now you know what I am going to shine up????
      I’ll give you a hint…. Planned parenthood killers. Oh it’s 6:35, I got to hurry

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