Pennsylvania has enacted 24 child protection laws over the past few years that have resulted in much-needed improvements to better protect children from abuse and neglect, but one hurdle still remains for lawmakers.
Pennsylvania now needs to address the discrepancies that exist in our current laws for individuals with certain criminal convictions who are seeking employment in a job or volunteer position that involves contact with children. Currently, provisions related to employment bans are not uniform across the Public School Code and the Child Protective Services Law, resulting in individuals with certain criminal convictions wishing to work in a child care setting and those wishing to be employed by a public school with the same criminal history being treated differently.
Act 153 of 2014 required the Department of Human Services (DHS), in conjunction with the Department of Education (PDE) and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), to produce a report recommending changes in permanent and temporary employment bans for individuals having contact with children. Research was conducted on current Pennsylvania statutes as well as nationally on how other states disqualify individuals from employment with children, what those disqualifying offenses are and for what period of time those individuals are prohibited from being employed in a position or profession that has contact with children. These state agencies also enlisted the help of a diverse group of stakeholders, including PPC, to review this research and assist with the development of the recommendations. The study was finalized and submitted to the General Assembly in December 2015.
The recommendations on prohibited crimes and offenses are categorized into four main bans: lifetime, 25 years, 10 years and 5 years. In determining the length of these bans, consideration was given to the safety of children, the seriousness of the offense, federal funding requirements, and an individual’s ability to work and volunteer with children. The recommendations in the report also include a waiver process that would provide an individual with a conviction associated with a temporary ban the opportunity to pursue employment or volunteer responsibilities by waiving that ban. The General Assembly will now review and contemplate the recommendations in the report, then determine the next steps necessary.
Moving forward, PPC will work with the legislature, DHS, PDE, and PCCD with the goal of enacting legislation to further protect children by consistently applying permanent and temporary employment bans to all employees and volunteers that have contact with children regardless of setting.
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