Of all the states that are sensitive to how devastating child abuse can be, Pennsylvania likely is near the top.
The Jerry Sandusky scandal put the horrific issue front and center for us several years ago, and it remains there.
Rightfully, Pennsylvanians want to do what we can to prevent any case of child abuse. But those steps don’t always come easily, or without additional cost.
The Legislature has passed more than 20 new laws in response to the scandal. Several Midstate school district administrators told The Sentinel last week that those changes likely will result in more paperwork, greater expenses and the risk of deterring volunteers.
While that sounds daunting, the causes seem more reasonable when they are outlined.
South Middleton School District Solicitor Gareth Pahowka told the school board policy committee last week that legislation created a new section of the Public School Code. The “Employment History Review” will require all applicants for school district jobs to not only list their current employer, but every prior employer, school-related or not, where the applicant had contact with children. This could even include such jobs as lifeguard, babysitter or camp counselor. The district would then seek written confirmation from every one of these employers on whether the applicant was ever investigated for misconduct, had his license or certification revoked or had been disciplined, discharged or asked to resign amid allegations of abuse.
New laws change how abuse should be reported. Teachers and teacher aides were in compliance if they reported their suspicions to the building principal, who in turn would contact child protective services, Pahowka said. That now is expanded to volunteers, and they must report abuse directly to child protective service agencies. Volunteers would be required to undergo background security clearances before they could interact with children.
While it’s a great deal of work, we don’t think these changes are overreaching when we’re talking about hiring people to work with children. However, we also understand how school administrators feel they will be difficult to carry out, especially in the face of budget shortfalls.
Cumberland County Children & Youth Services already has hired three new employees to handle the increased caseload. Director Wendy Hoverter said the department has had an uptick in cases. Again, those changes come with a cost: about $175,000 for an intake supervisor and two additional caseworker positions. The county will pay $34,898.70 and the state the rest.
Child abuse can’t be eliminated, but these laws are a positive step toward addressing the problem.
Some costs are worth paying.