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Harrisburg, U.S.A. — The enactment of Senate Bill 449 into law, which now requires teachers and other school personnel to be trained to recognize and report child abuse, is the culmination of nearly five years of effort by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA)—an effort that began well before the Jerry Sandusky case thrust child abuse into the national spotlight.
PFSA is a statewide nonprofit agency that annually trains more than 8,000 “mandated reporters” in how to recognize and report suspected child abuse. Mandated reporters are professionals who have regular contact with children by virtue of their jobs.
“Pennsylvanians should be grateful to everyone who had a hand in bringing this to fruition—including the members of the House and Senate; Gov. Tom Corbett, who last week signed the legislation into law; and in particular state Sen. Pat Vance of Cumberland County, who got behind this measure from the very beginning,” said PFSA Executive Director Angela Liddle.
PFSA began working with Vance on legislation for required training of school personnel in November 2009.
Final passage came shortly after a series of guilty verdicts in the child sex abuse trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“Obviously we are very gratified that we have finally achieved what we regard as an important milestone in protecting the children of Pennsylvania,” Liddle said, “but we also recognize that there is much more to be done.”
She said PFSA would now work to require training as part of initial and ongoing certification and licensure requirements for professions that regularly come into contact with children.
“It is sad that it took something like the Sandusky case to finally bring the needed attention to the issue of child abuse,” Liddle said. “It is now up to all of us not to let this slip back into the shadows.”
Liddle has repeatedly emphasized that training is key in making sure that vigilance against child abuse is effective. She said school personnel and other mandated reporters, such as physicians and members of the clergy, need to understand how abuse manifests itself and how to make proper reports to the authorities.
The new training law applies to personnel at public schools, charter schools, cyber schools, private schools, nonpublic schools, intermediate units and area vocational-technical schools.
It allows school employees to receive credits toward their continuing profession education requirements for taking the training. A minimum of three hours of training is required every five years.
Statistics compiled by the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW) confirm that schools are by far the largest single source of child abuse reports from mandated reporters. More than 24,000 reports of suspected child abuse were filed in Pennsylvania in 2011, according to DPW, and of those more than 3,400 were substantiated. DPW said 34 children died from abuse in Pennsylvania in 2011.
In addition to providing training for mandated reporters, PFSA is the Pennsylvania sponsor of The Front Porch Project, a community-based training initiative that educates the general public about how to protect children from abuse.
PFSA also works with more than 50 affiliate agencies across Pennsylvania to provide information, educational materials, and programs that teach and support good parenting practices.