By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire
The current scandal engulfing Penn State raises a lot of difficult questions. These questions include: Who knew what? Who did what? and What were the persons involved required to do – both morally and legally? The answer to the question of what they were legally required to do is found in Chapter 63 of the Title 23: Domestic Relations of the Pennsylvania Statutes. More specifically, the requirements are contained in 23 Pa.C.S. § 6311 – Persons Required to Report Suspected Child Abuse and § 6313 – Reporting Procedure. The following is a breakdown of the statutory requirements.
WHAT CONSTITUTES CHILD ABUSE: § 6311 requires that suspected child abuse be properly reported. In short, “child abuse” is defined as (a) “any recent act or failure to act by a perpetrator which causes nonaccidental serious physical injury to a child under 18 years old;” (b) “an act or failure to act by a perpetrator which causes nonaccidental serious mental injury to or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age;” (c) any recent act, failure to act or series of such acts or failures to act by a perpetrator which creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age;” and (d) “serious physical neglect by a perpetrator constituting prolonged or repeated lack of supervision or the failure to provide essentials of life, including adequate medical care, which endangers a child’s life or development or impairs the child’s functioning.” Exceptions are provided under limited circumstances for religious beliefs and environmental factors.
WHO MUST REPORT: § 6311 requires that a person “who, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children” is a mandatory reporter of child abuse. The statute provides a non-exhaustive list, which includes: licensed physicians, osteopath, medical examiner, coroner, funeral director, dentist, optometrist, chiropractor, podiatrist, intern, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of persons, Christian Science practitioner, member of the clergy, school administrator, school teacher, school nurse, social services worker, day-care center worker or any professional, peace officer, or law enforcement official. Limited exceptions are provided for clergy and attorneys.
WHEN MUST THEY REPORT: When the mandatory reporter has reasonable cause to suspect that a child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse. The mandatory reporter is required to rely on medical, professional or other training and experience in evaluating “reasonable cause.”
WHAT REPORT MUST BE MADE: If the mandatory reporter is a member of the staff, that person shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency or the designated agent of the person in charge [here, Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary]. Within 48 hours of notification, the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or the designated agent must report the suspected child abuse, orally or in writing, to the appropriate county agency (e.g., police department or children and youth services) [where the PSU officials went wrong - criminally speaking].
WHAT MUST BE REPORTED: The following must reported: (1) names and addresses for the child and parents/guardians; (2) where the suspected abuse occurred; (3) age and sex of the subjects of the report; (4) nature and extent of the suspected child abuse, including any evidence of prior abuse; (5) name and relationship of the person or persons responsible for causing the abuse and any evidence; (6) family composition, if known; (7) source of the report; (8) person making the report and where that person can be reached; (9) summary of the actions taken by the reporting source; and (10) any other information which the department may require by regulation. Note: oral reports must be confirmed in writing with the agency within 48 hours of the oral report.