As Lauren and I eagerly read through the State of Pennsylvania’s Task Force on Child Protection’s recommendations, we saw some measures that have already been implemented here in Florida, and some new ideas for our state to consider.
Over the past few years, we have worked with our state’s legislators to change laws to better protect and serve children, such as the elimination of the statute of limitations, both civilly and criminally when sexual assault crimes occur in children under the age of 16 years. We strongly feel that Pennsylvania should consider this, or, as an alternative to completely eliminating of the statutes of limitation, extending them to 30-50 years. We know well from the Sandusky case, that there are many adults who would otherwise not have a case, due to the shorter statute of limitation.
The list of Task Force recommendations touched on school-based education and prevention programs. We know well that education and awareness truly makes a difference. If the State of Pennsylvania does not fund education through evidence-based prevention programs – and mandate them – time will eliminate them from continuation. We know from the Florida experience in teaching Safer, Smarter Kids to the early childhood and kindergartners, it makes a difference – we have seen a proven 77% increase in knowledge of personal safety information among kids who have completed Safer, Smarter Kids.
As the Pennsylvania Task Force laid out, education cannot stop with just our children. Supervisors, caseworkers, teachers, people that come in contact with children are a critical component in identifying child abuse earlier. In partnership with the Florida Department of Children and Families, Lauren’s Kids is creating a handbook for youth-serving organizations to help train staff and fill this need.
The Task Force also explored the issue of expanding the list of Mandated Reporters. We believe Pennsylvania should be guided by the Florida model. Florida now mandates every individual in any place, position, profession, or job, be a mandatory reporter. Florida’s Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act assures that if anyone has a reason to suspect child sexual abuse, they must be a reporter.
On the issue of reporting, however, the Task Force laid out something that we have not yet tackled in the state of Florida: a three-digit reporting number (for example – in the same way that you dial “9-1-1” to call the police, you would be able to dial a three-digit number to report child abuse). We think this would simplify the reporting process, and thus encourage awareness and reporting.
We were also glad to see the importance the Task Force placed on state and local agencies. Lauren sits on the board of the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, and we see merit in the passage of the “Child Protection Services Law” mentioned in the report, and the involvement of MDIT’s and CAC’s.
Finally, we are interested the concept of creating three entities, Child Protection Advisory Council, Children’s Justice Task Force and a Child Protection Policy Academy, to combat and investigate child abuse. It will be interesting to see how much state support these entities would have, and to see if they work well in practice as well as theory.
Several other states, including Illinois, Missouri and Maine, currently have task forces out to recommend the best ways to protect kids in their states. Lauren and I are hopeful that these reports will help us gain ground in the fight to end child sexual abuse around the country.