Category Archives: Better Laws

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.”

April is “Go Blue” Month in Weatherford TX

Child Abuse Awareness
April is Go Blue Month in Weatherford, Texas

Weatherford, Texas – April is “Go Blue” month in recognition of awareness and focus on child abuse prevention. Agencies like Child Protective Services, CASA-Hope For Children and law enforcement agencies and courts work to get the word about how to identify child abuse or neglect, and the importance of reporting suspected abuse.

How to recognize child abuse

There are four major types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse,and emotional abuse.

Suspect physical abuse when you see:

  • Frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, black eyes or burns without adequate explanations.
  • Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury.
  • Aggressive, disruptive and destructive behavior.
  • Passive, withdrawn and emotionless behavior.
  • Fear of going home or seeing parents.
  • Injuries that appear after a child has not been seen for several days.
  • Unreasonable clothing that may hide injuries to arms or legs.

Suspect neglect when you see:

  • Obvious malnourishment.
  • Lack of personal cleanliness.
  • Torn or dirty clothing.
  • Stealing or begging for food.
  • Child unattended for long periods of time.
  • Need for glasses, dental care or other medical attention.
  • Frequent tardiness or absence from school.

Suspect sexual abuse when you see:

  • Physical signs of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Evidence of injury to the genital area.
  • Pregnancy in a young girl.
  • Difficulty in sitting or walking.
  • Extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex.
  • Sexual comments, behaviors or play.
  • Knowledge of sexual relations beyond what is expected for child’s age.
  • Sexual victimization of other children.

Emotional abuse is mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in a child’s growth, development or psychological functioning. It includes extreme forms of punishment such as confining a child in a dark closet, habitual scapegoating, belittling and rejecting treatment for a child.

Suspect emotional abuse when you see:

  • Over compliance.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Severe depression, anxiety or aggression.
  • Difficulty in making friends or doing things with other children.
  • Lagging in physical, emotional and intellectual development.
  • Caregiver who belittles children, withholds love and seems unconcerned about the child’s problems.

Call the Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400 and request advice by reporting your concerns. The hotline is answered 24-hours a day, seven-days a week. Remember that child abuse prevention is a community issue. Reach out to colleagues and friends who share your concerns for the well being of your community’s children. As an advocate you can make a difference in the child’s life and demonstrate there are adults who care.

To find out what you can do in your community, contact Prevent Child Abuse Texas, 1-800-252-5400, 

Child Sex Abuse cases up in Montgomery County, OH

DAYTON, OHIO — Although the number of child neglect and physical and emotional abuse investigations declined in Montgomery County last year, sexual abuse cases slightly increased, officials announced.

But child abuse can be prevented if everyone in the community helps, Montgomery County leaders stressed at Thursday’s kickoff to Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

“We always want you to call, and call our (937) 224-KIDS number whenever you have a concern about possible abuse or neglect,” said Deb Downing, assistant director for children’s services at Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services. “We have staff who are dedicated and trained to make those determinations as to whether or not investigation is warranted.”

The number of such investigations in Montgomery County fell from 3,621 in 2013 to 3,450 in 2014. And while neglect, physical and emotional investigations dropped, sexual abuse cases rose slightly. Overall, officials said the numbers are consistent from year to year.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said that nationally, an abuse report is completed every 10 seconds, nearly 1,700 children in the United States will die as a result of abuse or neglect in 2015 and that 30 percent of children who are abused will abuse their own kids.

“These are kids that are never given a chance,” Heck said at the gathering at Haines Children Center at 3304 N. Main St. “And that’s just so tough, I think, to really understand unless you deal with it every day. These are not just stats, but these are living people. These are children that you’re dealing with and helping to make a difference.”

Montgomery County Commissioners Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge and CARE House director Libby Nicholson joined Downing and Heck at the event. They were surrounded by case workers and other children services employees.

Thousands of calls of suspected abuse or neglect come into children services and are evaluated each month. Downing said, “Sometimes, those calls are just … we can connect people with community services so that we can strengthen them and get them the services they need.”

Downing said the causes for child abuse and neglect vary but reflect problems in society.

“Of course drugs are a huge issue in our community, but it’s (also) family isolation, not having support systems, the stresses of modern-day life,” she said. “If a parent is having drug or alcohol issues, oftentimes that becomes their priority rather than tending to the needs of the children,” Downing said.

Some calls result in connecting families with resources.

“Our focus is on working with that individual family and trying to strengthen that family and … what services are needed to help them, and of course sometimes despite our best efforts, you know we can’t help that family and so we have to make alternate plans for the child,” Downing said.  ”A lot of our cases never rise to the level of a criminal prosecution, so those criminal cases are really the most extreme cases that we deal with.”

Heck echoed others’ comments that it takes someone to take a stand and have courage to report child abuse.

“It takes all of us,” Heck said. “Not just children services case works, not just law enforcement, not just the cops, not just prosecutors, it takes all of us to be involved if we’re going to prevent child abuse and hold those responsible for child abuse …. and bring them to justice.”

Protesters are frustrated with child abuse plea deal

Boy Chained To Porch, Dead Chicken Around His Neck

UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) – More than 50 people protested Saturday against a former Union County DSS supervisor’s plea deal. Demonstrators said her punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

The protesters say they are angry because Wanda Larson is scheduled to get out of jail just days after she pleaded guilty to child abuse charges.

Tuesday, Larson entered a plea on two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts in a Union County court. She admitted to her role in shackling an 11-year-old boy to a porch with a dead chicken around his neck.

A judge ruled that the majority of her 17-month sentencing was already served. She also received five years of probation for the other felony.

People like Jeff Gerber of the Justice For All Coalition marched outside of the Monroe County courthouse to voice their outrage.

“We strongly oppose the decision of the Union county district attorney to not only avoid trial, avoid putting these five children on the stand, but to offer a golden parachute of a plea deal to Ms. Larson in the first place,” said Gerber. “These children deserve justice.”

Larson and her boyfriend, Dorian Harper, were foster parents to a total of five children. Authorities say all the children were abused.
Harper who also accepted a plea deal was sentenced to six to ten years of jail time for child abuse and maiming.

Larson has already spent more than 500 days in jail, because of that time served Larson could be out of jail as soon as next week.

Before Larson’s arrest, her job was to protect children. She was a Union County Department of Social Services for more than a decade.

Governor calls for reform of child protection in Texas

Baby Justice now has the attention of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Justice Hull was just two months old when she died in January, allegedly drowned at the hands of a 14-year-old teenager taking care of her. She is one of three children to die since the start of the year while under the supervision of Child Protective Services. Nine children died last year.

The deaths were cited in a letter sent this week to former Judge John Specia, commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. In it, the governor called for a “comprehensive reform of our state’s struggling foster care and child protection systems.”

He asked for $40 million more in new funding for the chronically underfunded and understaffed department, and increased oversight of child safety placement – situations when children are placed with friends or relatives.

“Abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable Texans – our children – is intolerable, and it is especially intolerable when it happens to the a child under the care umbrella of the state of Texas,” the governor wrote.

Many of the changes sought by Abbott are problems that surfaced in an Office of Child Safety report into Justice’s death released earlier this month.

Justice had been placed with a family friend shortly after birth. Twice in the weeks leading up to Justice’s January death, the family friend asked a CPS case worker for daycare assistance. The case worker denied the requests, saying that help could not be provided because the case was due to be closed.

The report revealed other problems, including the failure of caseworkers to meet timelines for face-to-face contacts and failing to offer services to the infant’s mother while she was pregnant, even though they knew she had admitted to substance abuse, had a history of domestic violence and untreated mental health issues.

In the letter, the governor called for enforcing mandatory face-to-face visits, better screening of those with whom children are placed, prohibiting the closing of a child safety placement case, such as Justice’s, without having “wrap around” services in place. He also called for a review of all child fatalities and critical injuries resulting in hospitalization.

The governor set a deadline of April 15 for a progress report.

Specia said in a statement that he looks “forward to working with him and with legislators to strengthen protections and ensure safety for children in families who are involved with Child Protective Services.”

Dimple Patel of Tex Protects knows some of the caseworkers involved in Justice’s case and says it’s been devastating for them.
“Having worked for nine years in the field.., there’s nothing more tragic than when a child dies on CPS’ watch,” Patel said.

The Office of Child Safety, which was recently created by Specia as part of a CPS reform effort, is also conducting investigations on two other child deaths involving CPS.

Codrick McCall, 4, had been placed with a friend of the family when he found a gun and accidentally shot himself in Houston on March 1. Audrey Torres, 3, died in a March 8 alcohol-related car crash in Amarillo while her family was being investigated and monitored by CPS at the time.

“There’s far too many children that are dying,” said J.J. Smith, founder of Rockwall-based Americans Ending Abuse. “There’s far too many children that are being injured.”

He says while many of the things that Abbott is calling for should already have been in place, he’s thrilled the governor has decided to take on the issue of child safety.

Smith says his group previously worked with Abbott to pass a 2011 law prohibiting parents and guardians from showing pornography to their children.

“Based on personal experience when we had this law passed in 2011, he really cared,” Smith said.

Abbot’s letter also called for specific changes with foster care, including improving performance evaluation and re-certification process for foster care contractors and establishing case worker protocols to educate foster children on how to report abuse and neglect.’

Carol Cook knows well the failings of CPS and the foster care system. She adopted 15-year-old Ke’onte after seeing him on News 8’s Wednesday’s Child.

While in foster care, he was placed in a psychiatric hospital three times and overmedicated, she said. She says within weeks of Ke’onte coming to live with them, he was off the medications. She says he’s now doing well in school and an active, heavy teen-ager.

“If we actually follow through with them, I think it would be really great,” Cook said. “I know way too many children that have been into the system my son included that just kind of fell through the cracks.”