Child Protection Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has 23 new child protection laws, enacted in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Most of these laws came into effect on December 31, 2014. These laws dramatically impact custody, child protection, the criminal code and even the school code. The new laws added an entire section to the family law title of the Pennsylvania code, at 23 PaCSA 6303. This post highlights the changes to Pennsylvania custody law:

1. Expansion of "child abuse": It is now a crime for a parent to leave a child in the care of a person that the parent knows (or reasonably should have known) is a sexual predator. Placing the child in the care of the other parent is specifically excluded from this law. However, the question remains: When should a parent "reasonably know" that another person is a sexual predator. This is probably a fact-specific inquiry. For example, a parent may have a duty to do a background check if a neighbor claims that somebody is a sexual predator. But the law is still unclear in this area. In any event, this would be part of good parenting.

2. Factors in custody litigations: Courts must now consider child abuse and involvement with protective services by any party (or a member of their household) when making a custody determination. To aid in this determination, county CYS agencies are now directed to release confidential information to Judges making a custody determination. Again, it is unclear how much information must be released, whether the attorneys may review the documentation, the form of the release etc.

3. Statewide Database: To aid courts and law enforcement in their investigations, each county is to contribute to a statewide database that would have extensive information, including reports of child abuse, family court records and the status of agency and court actions. The database is also to include false reports of abuse "for the purpose of identifying and tracking patterns of intentionally false reports". However, it is unclear when this database will be completed and available to the courts. Moreover, each county can have its own rules as to when this type of information is requested and what information is provided.

Many of these open questions will remain undetermined until case-law and local rules clarify the implementation of these important new rules.