Category Archives: Good People

Pennsylvania Child Abuse Reports Increase

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.

Higher penaltys for Child Abusee
Lisa Stevens, executive director of Schuylkill County Children & Youth Services

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.

Nico LaHood starts a Child Abuse Division

District Attorney against Child Abuse
Nico LaHood, Bexar County DA

San Antonio, TX – It’s been a little more than three weeks since Nico LaHood took office as the Bexar County District Attorney and he said the atmosphere is already different.

“Three weeks in, people are encouraged. And if people are encouraged and hopeful then in my opinion, I’m going to get excellence out of them and I expect excellence out of the assistant district attorneys,” LaHood said.

LaHood said his biggest challenge so far has been dealing with the bureaucracy. The former criminal defense lawyer is now facing decisions from the opposite side of the court room.

“I think all those experiences in my life, being called every name in the book, even recently in the campaign and that’s fine, I’m comfortable in my skin to going through challenges and having to overcome challenges, physically, mentally, socially, has prepared me for this moment.”

Those challenges include his own time in the justice system and the murder of his brother. LaHood was present for the execution of his brother’s killer.

“What it’s taught me over the years is the ability and the authority to utilize the death penalty, which is appropriate in certain situations and I am a responsible supporter of the death penalty. Responsible,” he said

LaHood said he’s especially interested in cases involving children and started a child abuse division. He’s meeting with various judges and organizations to put together a child abuse summit.

“Once we analyze the problems, now what are the solutions. Let’s cut through all the bureaucracy BS and let’s bring some solutions,” he said.

He also has some very specific goals for his first year in office.
“That this guy wasn’t afraid to do what’s right, he didn’t play the BS political games. He wasn’t afraid to be himself, he wasn’t afraid to do what’s right. And he was consistent in office.”

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Online, you are guilty even after being proven innocent

Once you’re arrested, your name is tarnished forever.

More and more people are having “Google problems.” They usually look like this:

  1. someone got arrested;
  2. the local newspaper wrote about it;
  3. prosecutors dropped the charges completely;
  4. the person’s record was expunged (in other words, the slate was wiped clean);
  5. the original arrest article, however, is still online.

Now whenever anyone searches that person’s name, the arrest is one of the top Google results even though they’re weren’t guilty.

Google: Your new permanent record

You can imagine the trouble this causes for the individual seeking the article’s takedown: difficulty getting a job, a promotion, or even a date. It seems unfair that even though the judicial system saw fit to remove all traces of the arrest from the person’s record, there’s no corresponding requirement that the local newspaper do the same. What’s the point of expunging a record when anyone with internet access can bring up an old, bogus arrest? Even if a court of law drops the matter, the court of public opinion has condemned that person for life.

The free speech rights of publishers trump those of individuals

In the battle of the newspapers versus the individual’s reputation, the law is on the newspapers’ side. They have a First Amendment right to report true information and are under no legal obligation to remove—“unpublish,” as it’s referred to lately—content, even when significant updates have occurred. In our experience, publishers are generally unwilling to remove articles that were factually accurate when written. Their reasoning ranges from lofty (saying they don’t want to “rewrite the historical record”) to lazy (they have a policy of never changing anything).

Some publications will remove an article, but only if the stars align and several factors exist: the publication doesn’t have a strict policy against unpublishing, we reach an actual human being, we reach an actual human being who’s in a good mood that day, we’re able to provide documentation of the dropped charges or expunged record, and the person to whom we speak decides that the facts of the particular situation warrant removal. It takes hard work, persistence, and luck. Does it happen? Yes, but you can see why it’s pretty rare