Pennsylvania Child Abuse Checks off to a Strong Start

By Michael Klazema on 3/4/2016

Judging by a recent report from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the state's new policy for requiring child abuse background checks has already been a huge success. The law, which mandates clearances for individuals whose jobs involve caring for or working with children, went into effect a little over a year ago, in January 2015. According to a DHS press release, the child abuse background checks have already flagged 1,605 applicants and would-be volunteers with prior child abuse offenses or allegations.

In 2014, Pennsylvania legislators passed a package of 24 new laws pertaining to child abuse. The legislative movement was at least in part inspired by the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal that broke several years ago. Per the laws, all teachers, school employees, foster or adoptive parents, and any other volunteers or employees working with children must have their names checked against Pennsylvania's child abuse registry. Those who pass these checks are issued clearances from the system.

1,605 applicants is an astonishingly high number of applicants to be flagged with "prior reports of substantiated child abuse," as the DHS press release notes. To be fair, though, DHS also says that only 17 of those 1,605 applicants were deemed as "prohibitive hires" based on the legislation. These 17 individuals were disqualified, without exception, from the jobs or volunteer positions they were seeking.

Exactly what happened to each of the 1,588 other applicants who were flagged for former instances of child abuse is unknown. Under the law, those who are flagged by the system but not classified as prohibitive hires are not technically barred from working with kids. Instead, their child abuse registry information is passed on to prospective employers or volunteering supervisors, who make the final decision. As a result, it is impossible to know how many of those other 1,588 flagged individuals were hired.

Even with some stats left unclear, though, these figures show just how essential the child abuse clearance law is for Pennsylvania. Even by weeding out just 17 prohibitive hires, Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services could have prevented who-knows-how-many cases of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse against children. By giving prospective employers important information about more than 1,500 other potentially dangerous personnel, the DHS went a long way toward making schools, camps, foster programs, and other environments safer for children throughout the state.


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