Child Abuse Facts and Prevention in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance is a nonprofit organization that provides education, support, and training programs to make Pennsylvania safe for children. Our team 10 staff members train approximately 30,000 individuals per year across the Commonwealth on how to recognize and report the signs of child abuse. We provide training programs to individuals who work as teachers, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, daycare workers, therapists, and many more. Our mission is for all children to grow and thrive in an environment free from abuse and neglect.

Frequently Asked Questions

What constitutes child abuse and neglect according to Pennsylvania law?

A: Child abuse is defined as when an individual acts or fails to prevent something that causes serious harm to a child under the age of 18. This harm can take many forms, such as serious physical injury, serious mental injury, neglect, or sexual abuse or exploitation.

If someone suspects child abuse, what should they do?

A: If you have a reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused, contact ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. You do not have to be sure that abuse is happening and you should not try to investigate what happened on your own. You may make the report anonymously. Some groups of people are mandated to report child abuse, based on their contact with children in the course of employment or other factors.

What is a mandated reporter?

A: Anyone may report suspected abuse; mandated reporters are those people who are required by law to report suspected child abuse. Mandated reporters are held to a higher standard of responsibility and may receive serious consequences for not reporting suspected abuse.

Who is mandated to report child abuse in Pennsylvania?  

A: Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) was amended in 2014, including substantial changes to the list of people who are mandated reporters. Effective December 31, 2014, people in these positions are mandated to report child abuse:

  • A person licensed or certified to practice in any health-related field under the jurisdiction of the Department of State;
  • A medical examiner, coroner or funeral director;
  • An employee of a health care facility or provider licensed by the Department of  Health, who is engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of  individuals;
  • A school employee;
  • An employee of a child care service, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment;
  • Clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization;
  • An individual paid or unpaid; who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child;
  • An employee of a social services agency, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment;
  • A peace officer or law enforcement official defined as Attorney General, District Attorney, PA State Police and municipal police officer.
  • An emergency medical services provider certified by the Department of Health;
  • An employee of a public library, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment;
  • An individual supervised or managed by a person listed above who has direct contact with children in the course of their employment; and
  • An independent contractor who has direct contact with children.
  • An attorney affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or other entity that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children.
  • A foster parent.

What is a substantiated case of child abuse versus a reported case of child abuse?

A: Once a report of suspected child abuse is made to ChildLine, it is forwarded to the local county Children & Youth agency for investigation.  If that Children & Youth agency determines the allegations can be substantiated as child abuse as defined by the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL), the perpetrator named on that report is placed on the ChildLine Registry.  Perpetrators on the ChildLine Registry cannot receive a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance. 

How many substantiated cases of child abuse have there been in recent years?

A: *Numbers are cited from the 2018 Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Child Protective Services Annual Report

  • 2018: 5,102 substantiated cases
  • 2017: 4,836 substantiated cases
  • 2016: 4,349 substantiated cases
  • 2015: 4,267 substantiated cases
  • 2014: 3,088 substantiated cases

Why are the numbers of substantiated cases increasing?

A: While child abuse and neglect are more prevalent than you would think, our agencies, law enforcement officials, and professionals that work with children are becoming better trained and equipped with the proper tools they need in order to recognize the signs of child abuse. As an organization that is focused on child abuse prevention, we don’t ever want these numbers to increase, but we do know that we live in an era where this issue is more frequently discussed, covered by the media, and the professionals who work with children are receiving better training than ever before.

The amendments to the Child Protective Services Law, effective in December 2014, also continue to drive increases in substantiated reports of child abuse. These amendments increased the number of mandated reporters of child abuse and added additional persons who could be identified as perpetrators of child abuse.

What happens after an individual makes a report/claim of child abuse?

A: Each referral is evaluated at ChildLine by a trained caseworker who will determine the most appropriate course of action. These actions include forwarding a report to a county agency for investigation as child abuse or for assessment as general protective services, or forwarding the referral to the appropriate law enforcement official(s). 

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