Ten states have rushed to toughen reporting laws on child sex abuse in the eight months since Jerry Sandusky’s arrest set off a nationwide scandal. One is conspicuously absent from that list: Pennsylvania, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Many of the state’s victim advocacy groups have worked to keep it that way for now. Amid pressure to pass headline-grabbing legislation in response to the case against the former Penn State assistant football coach and the trial of two priests from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, child-welfare advocates have urged lawmakers to show restraint. Many worry that in the heat of scandal, the state runs the risk of over-correcting — of passing knee-jerk bills with requirements that would overwhelm cash-strapped social services agencies or, worse, cast undue suspicion on families and individuals tenuously accused of abuse.
A panel of legislators, lawyers, judges and victim advocates, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection has met seven times and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses on the advantages and pitfalls of proposed measures. Those include extending civil and criminal statutes of limitations; appointing an ombudsman to handle abuse appeals; and requiring all adults, under threat of criminal penalties, to report suspected abuse. The group is expected to issue by November a slate of recommendations to overhaul the state’s systems for reporting and investigating child abuse.