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House of Representatives
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session


Posted: December 18, 2012 03:27 PM
From: Representative Scott A. Petri
To: All House members
Subject: Defining “Child Abuse”
I am preparing to introduce legislation that would amend the definitions of “child abuse” and related terms in the Child Protective Services Law. I believe that the time has come to reconsider how we define “child abuse” in Pennsylvania, and I intend to work with colleagues, relevant agencies and other stakeholders to develop legislation to address some of the deficiencies in the current law.

The definition of “child abuse” in the CPSL is central to our system of child protection. “Child abuse” is the conduct that, when suspected, mandated reporters are required to report (or face a potential criminal penalty). Reports of “child abuse” are what the Department of Public Welfare and county Children and Youth Agencies must investigate. And, “child abuse,” when substantiated, will cause an individual’s name to appear on the child abuse registry, which can have long-term implications.

Over the years, I have heard many complaints and concerns about the current definition of “child abuse,” and it is of the utmost importance that the General Assembly gets this definition right. We will need to come up with a definition of “child abuse,” which not only expands protection to children, but avoids unintended consequences. So, my legislation should be seen as a starting point for this important conversation. My bill is intended to:

  • Bring the standard for physical abuse in line with the language defining “simple assault” in our Crimes Code. In other words, the same conduct that would constitute assault would constitute child abuse.
  • Expand the definition of “sexual abuse or exploitation” to include conduct, with regard to a child, that would constitute the criminal offenses of institutional sexual assault, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor.
  • Remove the term “nonaccidental,” and replace it with varying standards of culpability (reckless, knowing and intentional), which relate to the conduct constituting “child abuse.”
  • Make several technical corrections.
  • Bring the standard for abuse that is committed by creating imminent risk for a child more in line with the language defining “endangering the welfare of a child” and “reckless endangerment” in our Crimes Code.
  • Create an exception in the definition for the use of justifiable force by a parent, guardian or other person responsible for the care and supervision of a child. Again, this language is based on language in the Crimes Code, so that conduct constituting assault will constitute physical abuse of a child.

I hope that you will consider cosponsoring this legislation. If you would like to do so, please contact Lea Farrell in my office at lfarrell@pahousegop.com or 787-9033. Likewise, if you are interested in being part of this important conversation, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Introduced as HB726