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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: April 14, 2020 09:01 PM
From: Representative Tarah Toohil
To: All House members
Subject: Expanded Safe Haven Law During COVID-19 Disaster Declaration
In February, Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services reported that there were an estimated 18,000 child abuse reports. In March, this number drastically fell to 9,000 child abuse reports. This is a 50% drop in child abuse reporting.  https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/spl/pennsylvania-coronavirus-child-abuse-welfare-childline-stress-families-20200401.html

During this time, Pennsylvania's families are in crisis and many children are not seen publicly or by teachers. There are less safeguards and sets of eyes on our children than ever before in recent history.  Many caseworkers and teachers, if any, are operating remotely via telephone call and video conference. Now more than ever before, Pennsylvania's children can be subjected to unchecked and unfettered mental, physical and sexual abuse. After all, if there is no teacher to witness bruises or injuries then one whole layer of child protection is removed. 

This legislation does the following:
It allows families to surrender their child to Safe Haven in Pennsylvania. 
It expands the age category to age 18 (or high school graduation). It creates further protections for disabled children.  
It will expand locations for Safe Haven drop off points in the Commonwealth. 
It allows for ARD and counseling programs for parents rather than prosecution for improper attempt at Safe Haven. 
It provides for clear language on the Department of Human Services website regarding the rules of Safe Surrender.
It mandates that the Department of Human Services provide the data breakdown of child abuse statistics, child abuse reporting, fatalities and near fatalities in accessible language on its website. 
As long as the COVID-19 Declaration is in place, all of the data should be made public with a bi-weekly update. The breakdown should also include: how many involved an infant under age 1, law enforcement only reports, general protective services, and child protective services.
Redirection of unused funding towards fighting and preventing child abuse. (ie. expanding family nurse home visiting, crisis nursery care, respite care relief, prevention PSA's, support for warm line phone calls. 

Many times when a child dies in Pennsylvania, we ask ourselves, "How could this have happened?"
Many times when a child is abused in Pennsylvania, we ask ourselves, "How could this have happened?"

This legislation will save lives. This piece of legislation is the first step in addressing what we can do to prevent child injury and death.  Please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation.