Harrisburg – The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), held a public hearing today on legislation aimed at improving child protection in Pennsylvania by changing the legal definition of “child abuse.”
“More than a dozen bills have been introduced to prevent child abuse in Pennsylvania, and none is more important than legislation to update and clarify the very legal definition of this despicable crime,” said Mensch.
Under Senate Bill 20 , sponsored by Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-4), child abuse would be defined as reckless or intentionally acting against a child causing bodily injury or serious bodily injury. In addition, the bill would list a number of acts that would constitute child abuse, such as kicking, burning, forcefully shaking or slapping a child less than one year old, and physical neglect.
Updating the definition of child abuse was one of the changes recommended by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection in its 2012 report . Testifiers at today’s hearing included attorney Jason Kutulakis, a member of the task force, Sean McCormack, Chief Deputy District Attorney in Dauphin County, and Cathy Utz, Acting Secretary of the Office of Children, Youth & Families within the Department of Public Welfare.
The experts told the committee that citizens have a difficult time determining what is child abuse under the current definition, making it unclear for mandated reporters of child abuse such as doctors and nurses to know when to act.
Other experts addressing the committee included Angela Liddle, Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, Charles Songer of the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators Association, and Pat Bruno with the Child Advocacy Center of the Central Susquehanna Valley.
The panelists said changing the definition of child abuse will go far in capturing cases, treating victims and prosecuting perpetrators.
Senate Bill 20 is part of a bipartisan package of legislation introduced to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. Mensch said the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, and other Senate committees, will continue work on reviewing the proposed bills to position them for enactment as soon a possible.
“This is an enormous undertaking. We need to get it done as quickly as possible but we need to get it right,” said Mensch. “Everyone involved in child protection throughout the commonwealth is looking for direction and clarity from our state laws, so that they know when to act and how to act. Updating the definition of child abuse will go a long way toward providing that direction.”
NOTE: You can view video of the hearing and the agenda at the Aging and Youth Committee website.