Filling the gaps
As the sordid Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case unfolded, it exposed gaps in state-mandated abuse-reporting requirements that put untold numbers of children in peril.
The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, which was created by the state Legislature in response to the Sandusky case, has recommended a host of changes to require reporting by more people and to make it easier to do so.
Most of those changes are to the good but they only partially deal with issues raised by the Sandusky case. A full policy response won't be possible until Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane undertakes her promised investigation of the state's own bungled response to the Sandusky case, which extends far beyond the former administration at Penn State University.
Former PSU President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley await trial on charges related to their alleged mishandling of the Sandusky case in 2001.
But suspicions about Mr. Sandusky were reported to the appropriate local and state agencies in 1998, investigations were conducted and nothing happened. Then in 2008, when the incident that led to Mr. Sandusky's arrest and conviction was reported, an investigation launched by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett's office dragged on for three years during which Aaron Fisher, also known as Mr. Sandusky's "Victim No. 1," later said he contemplated suicide as Mr. Sandusky remained free.
There has been no action regarding school district personnel, who already have a statutory responsibility to report suspected abuse. Nor has there been any action regarding the Second Mile, the charity founded by Mr. Sandusky, through which he gained access to some of his victims.
The issue isn't simply the need to report but the need for those receiving reports to respond.
Meanwhile, the task force recommendations include: expanding the definition of child abuse so that actual physical contact is not required for an arrest; expanding the list of mandated reporters to include college employees, computer technicians and employees and volunteers of organizations dealing with children; replacing the current 1-800-932-0313 child abuse hotline with a three-digit number; requiring teachers to directly report suspected abuse through the hotline rather than to school administrators; and establishing a central database of abuse investigations.
State lawmakers should add rapid responses by appropriate state agencies to the list. They should ensure that agencies have the resources they need to do so. And, they should be prepared for another policy update once Ms. Kane does her work.