PA Child Welfare Law – Recent Changes that Affect Meetings

Friends Who Care For Youth

Recent changes in Pennsylvania Child Welfare laws impact volunteers and paid staff who work with children and youth in Pennsylvania monthly and quarterly meetings in two significant areas: Background Check Requirements and Mandated Reporter Requirements.

The Changes

Background checking is required by PA law for those whose responsibilities involve direct contact with children, paid or unpaid.

This applies to paid staff or volunteers such as for First Day School, youth and childcare programs, Friendly Adult Presences, and chaperones. Previously, a religious organization could use discretion as to which background checks to perform and for whom. Now a specific set of clearances is required by law, even if the person volunteers part-time or occasionally, when they are part of a planned program or activity and coming in contact with children, whether paid or unpaid.  The intent of their responsibilities should be your guide- for example, a one-time overnight chaperone needs a background check, while a one-time guest speaker who will have little interaction with the children and no care responsibilities may not need one.

Volunteers and paid staff whose responsibilities involve direct contact with children are Mandated Reporters of child abuse under PA law.

If there is reasonable cause to suspect child abuse, mandated reporters are required to make an immediate report to Child Welfare authorities. While a volunteer may seek the support and assistance of a supervisor in carrying out the report, that supervisor does not have the authority to determine whether a report is to be made, rather, any investigation is left to child welfare professionals. Reports can be made to ChildLine 1-800-932-0313.

Resources are available! PYM staff have been learning and collecting resources to assist monthly and quarterly meetings in navigating the background checking and mandatory reporting laws. We can help direct you to resources and trainings, including free online trainings, direct you to the state website where most of the checks can be done for free, or we can help you by carrying out background checks for paid staff or volunteers in your meeting first day schools and youth programs.

The Details

The sections below provide details about new Pennsylvania Child Welfare Laws and specifically how they relate to volunteers and paid employees in our monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting youth programs.

Background Checks

A specific set of background checks are now required for anyone, including volunteers, whose responsibilities involve direct contact with children. The law states that “an employer or individual who intentionally fails to require an applicant for employment or volunteer service to submit the required certifications commits a misdemeanor of the 3rd degree.”*

For Paid Employees

Effective December 31, 2014.

  • For employees who are already background checked, there is a grace period until December 31, 2015 to be in full compliance, provided the existing background checks are current (no more than 36 months old)

All individuals 14 years of age or older who apply for a paid position as an employee responsible for the welfare of a child or having direct contact with children will be required to submit the following information to their prospective employer, and thereafter, assuming the individual becomes employed, the same certifications will be required every 36 months:

  1. Pennsylvania Criminal History report from the Pennsylvania State Police;
  2. Child Abuse Check/Certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Service; and
  3. Federal Criminal History report from the FBI, which shall include submission of the individual’s fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police.

(PYM also runs a National Database Search)

Source: “Summary of Changes Child Protective Services Law 2014”, Bucks County Partners for Child Abuse Prevention, Presentation by Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), January 2014.

Volunteers

Effective July 1, 2015.

  • For volunteers who were in place before August 25, 2015, there is a grace period until July, 2016 to be in full compliance with the new background checking requirements.
  • Anyone newly volunteering must complete the background checking process as required. The process should be initiated before the person begins volunteering with children and supervision provided until it is complete.
  • The big picture change is that this is not just best practice, but is now law that will affect volunteers in our Monthly Meetings as well as in PYM Programs.

All individuals 18 years of age or older who apply for an unpaid position as a volunteer responsible for the welfare of a child or having direct contact with children will be required to submit the same information as set forth above for employees having direct contact with children, and thereafter, assuming the individual becomes a volunteer, the same certifications will be required every 36 months.

However, only the Pennsylvania Criminal History report and the Certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services will be required for a volunteer if the following 3 conditions apply:

  1. The volunteer position is in fact unpaid;
  2. The prospective volunteer has been a Pennsylvania resident for a period of no less than 10 years immediately prior to the application for a volunteer position; and
  3. The prospective volunteer affirms in writing that he/she is not disqualified from service under the provisions of the law.

UPDATE: The PA Criminal and Child Abuse Background Checks are free for volunteers! The service PYM uses still charges a fee, but the cost has been reduced by $20.

Source: “Summary of Changes Child Protective Services Law 2014”, Bucks County Partners for Child Abuse Prevention, Presentation by Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), January 2014.

Timeline

Paid staff whose responsibilities include direct contact with children but have never been background checked need to have their background checks run in compliance with the new law immediately.

Volunteers who work with children and started before August 2015 but have never been background checked need to have their background checks run in compliance with the new law by July 2016.

Paid staff who fit the criteria and have been background checked need to have their background checks run in compliance with new rules by December 2016.

Volunteers who fit the criteria and have been background checked need to make sure their clearances are up to date and compliant with the new process by July 2016. Those who haven’t lived in PA ten years or more will need to complete the FBI Fingerprinting, and those who have will need to sign an affidavit that they have lived in PA ten years.

PYM will help your meeting by conducting your background checks through approved services. Meetings will need to pay the fees, but PYM will provide instruction, coordination, and record keeping.

Mandated Reporting

The new law requires that volunteers and paid staff who work directly with children, regardless of certifications or licenses, are mandated reporters of child abuse in PA.  This includes volunteers in first day schools, childcare workers or volunteers, and friendly adult presences for youth programs.

Who is a Mandated Reporter?

Effective December 31, 2014, people in these positions are required to report child abuse: Those that pertain most to meetings and first day schools are in bold type.

  • A person licensed or certified to practice in any health-related field under the jurisdiction of the Department of State
  • A medical examiner, coroner or funeral director
  • An employee of a health care facility or provider licensed by the Department of Health, who is engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of individuals
  • A school employee
  • An employee of a child care service, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
  • Clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization
  • An individual paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of their role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, accepts responsibility for a child
  • An employee of a social services agency who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
  • A peace officer or law enforcement official defined as Attorney General, DA, PA State Police and municipal police officer
  • An emergency medical services provider certified by the Department of Health*
  • An employee of a public library, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
  • An individual supervised or managed by a person listed above who has direct contact with children in the course of their employment
  • An independent contractor who has direct contact with children
  • An attorney affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or other entity, including a school or regularly established religious organization that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children
  • A foster parent*

*Source: “Summary of Changes Child Protective Services Law 2014”, Bucks County Partners for Child Abuse Prevention, Presentation by Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), January 2014.

When do mandated reporters report?

A mandated reporter is required to make an immediate report of suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse under any of the circumstances:

  • The mandated reporter is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child, or is affiliated with an agency, institution, organization or other entity that is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child; or
  • A person makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that an identifiable child is the victim of child abuse; or
  • The mandated reporter comes into contact with the child in the course of employment, occupation and practice of a profession or through a regularly scheduled program, activity or service; or
  • An individual 14 years of age or older makes as specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that the individual has committed child abuse*

*Source: “Summary of Changes Child Protective Services Law 2014”, Bucks County Partners for Child Abuse Prevention, Presentation by Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), January 2014.

Sources:

“Summary of Changes Child Protective Services Law 2014”, Bucks County Partners for Child Abuse Prevention, Presentation by Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), January 2014.

Childrens Justice and Advocacy Report, Center for Children’s Justice http://c4cj.org/files/cjar1132104backgroundchecks.pdf