Protecting our Kids: Improvements to Child Abuse Laws in Pennsylvania

Americans were shocked and dismayed by the Penn State child abuse scandal, with varying forms of abuse occurring over many years. The investigation and subsequent arrest of Jerry Sandusky has shed light on child abuse laws in Pennsylvania and some deficiencies to the programs and protections available. Last December, a bill was signed into law updating child abuse laws in Pennsylvania, providing greater detail and definition to prosecute child abuse cases.

The investigation into the abuse that took place over many years led to the creation of a bi-partisan task force to study the problem, and create reforms for child abuse protection. The improvements include the most fundamental change – defining child abuse. Previously, the definition was, “serious bodily injury”. The updated definition is simply “bodily injury”; as well as and knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally committing acts of child abuse or failing to act when child abuse is being committed.

The latter part of the definition is an obvious result of this case. What most do not realize is that prior to these revisions, attempting to lure a child into a car or a structure was not a specific offense. This has been changed and is a major improvement to child abuse laws in Pennsylvania.

Of specific interest for matters of family law is the changes to the definition of “perpetrator”. It has been changed to include family members of the child, employees, volunteers, and teachers with regular and direct contact with the child. Prior to this change, “perpetrator” was basically limited to a parent, a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone over the age of fourteen residing in the same home. Obviously limiting, the law reflects a greater understanding of, and protection against, the many threats our children can face with any member of the community.

At once, Pennsylvania prided itself on the lowest rates of abuse in the entire United States, and this case revealed a superficiality to the statistics. Bound by the previous definition of “perpetrator”, there were likely many thousands more cases that went uninvestigated. Though never early enough or good enough, these changes at least have provided greater ease for the prosecution of those who have abused children.

The Law Offices of Michael Kuldiner, P.C. is a Bucks County family law firm serving residents of the Doylestown area for custody, divorce, support and other domestic relations matters. Call (215) 693-6191 to set up a consultation with a Bucks County family attorney, or submit an online inquiry form and a member of our team will contact you shortly to schedule an appointment.