As a result of the Jerry Sandusky /Penn State child abuse scandal on July 1, 2015, a new law, Persons Required to Report Suspected Child Abuse, 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6311, went into effect in Pennsylvania. Its’ impact is widespread. Parent volunteers in schools and others who come into close contact with children now may be required to obtain child abuse clearances before school districts or other organizations permit contact with students. Clearances must be obtained from the state police, and if the volunteer is not a Pennsylvania resident for 10 years he/she must be cleared by the FBI. For many parents volunteering in their children’s schools, chaperoning trips or coaching little league and soccer is a rite of passage. Since the law is relatively new, it has taken many by surprise. Some are annoyed by the bureaucratic paperwork requirements, quite a few are confused, and others simply are reducing their community involvement. Some background perhaps puts the motivation and need for this change in perspective.
Enhanced mandatory child abuse reporting harkens back to the spring of 2008, when the mother of a 15 year old high school freshman reported to the principal that her son had been sexually assaulted. The perpetrator was a prominent retired football coach and local philanthropist whom the student met through a charity organized by the coach to help children from disadvantaged families. The school principal, mandated by state law to report child abuse allegations, referred the student to the county Children and Youth Services department. The matter was investigated by a young social worker unfamiliar with renowned Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. She reported the results of her interview with the student to the Pennsylvania State Police. Ultimately the matter was referred to the Attorney General’s office, which obtained a grand jury indictment of the coach.
In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 criminal counts involving at least 7 victims over many years. In 2012, Sandusky was convicted of child sex abuse and is serving a 30 to 60 year sentence. In the process, storied football Coach Joe Paterno’s reputation and legacy were tarnished and Penn State University officials still face trial on perjury charges stemming from their failure to report suspected abuse to authorities.