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Many community members have been asking some critical questions in response to recent news about child abuse and neglect cases in Lebanon County. Any community member can ACT in response to suspected child abuse. In 2015, there were some crucial updates made to Child Protective Services Law that created a safety net system for child abuse reporting.
Pennsylvania allows for both mandated reporters and permissive reporters to use this safety net. ChildLine is the statewide reporting hotline that tracks and directs child abuse reports, and any community member can make a report by calling 1-800-932-0313.
Mandated reporters are required to report child abuse immediately because of their professional or volunteer role. They must make an immediate and direct report of suspected child abuse to ChildLine either electronically at www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis or by calling 1-800-932-0313. Mandated reporters must report, no matter where or how they learn about the suspected abuse.
It is important to know that ANY community member may act as a permissive reporter. This means they may call Childline at 1-800-932-0313 to make a report. Reports are kept anonymous.
After a report is made to Childline, it receives a report number so that it can be tracked. The information received is evaluated and then forwarded to the appropriate investigators. Child Abuse reports can lead to a criminal investigation, a civil investigation, or both. This means that a given report may be referred to local law enforcement, a county child protective services agency, or both to be investigated at the same time.
Child protective services, including Lebanon County’s Children & Youth Services (CYS), have a specific amount of time to do a safety check, and conduct their investigation. There are three possible outcomes for child protective services (CPS) cases: Indicated, Founded, or Unfounded. Indicated and Founded cases had enough evidence that the alleged abuse occurred based on medical evidence, Child Protective Services Investigation, admission of the abuse by the perpetrator or offender, or that there has been a judicial adjudication based on the investigation.
An Unfounded investigation means that there is not enough evidence to rule the case as Indicated or Founded. An Unfounded investigation does not necessarily mean that abuse did not occur. Rather, it means that there was not enough information to Found or Indicate. If you suspect that abuse has occurred, you can make another report with additional information.
Remember that not all reports made have sufficient information to investigate. There are two protective service branches through Lebanon County Children & Youth: Child Protective Services (CPS) and General Protective Services (GPS). Child protective services investigates physical abuse, sexual abuse, serious neglect, and mental injury that meets the criteria of child abuse under Child Protective Services Law. General Protective Services investigates everything that doesn’t meet the criteria of a Child Protective Services investigation, but still has to meet the threshold to be investigated.
Childline identifies whether the report is determined a GPS, CPS or Law Enforcement referral. If a Child Protective Services case, CYS must assure the safety and see the victim child and all other children in the home within 24 hours. If the report is a General Protective Services (GPS) report, it is screened by a local supervisor who determines whether it will be investigated and the what the response time will be. Response times can range from immediate to 10 days after, based on the risk and safety concerns identified in the report. If the case is not accepted for investigation because it doesn’t meet the safety or risk threshold, CYS Administration staff will review the case to ensure that they agree with the decision, as a system of checks and balances.
Two training opportunities are planned in April for community members who are interested in learning more about reporting Child Abuse and how the process works. The first is for general community members and will share information on recognizing signs of abuse and how to report it. This will take place on April 7 at 6 pm. On April 15 at 9 am, a free 3-hour training for mandated reporters and child serving professionals will be offered. This training will satisfy state requirements for Mandated Reporters. Registration for both events is on Event Brite.
In addition, there are community organizations in Lebanon County that provide no-cost training and prevention programming for both adults and children. To learn more about trauma-informed practices and resilience, contact Domestic Violence Intervention. To request a training on mandated reporting, identifying signs of grooming behavior, or building protective factors in children and teens, contact SARCC.
Ali Perrotto is CEO of the Sexual Assault Resource & Counseling Center (SARCC).