Wednesday, June 24, 2015


The legislature was shocked to see the gravity on one unintended consequence they did not project. When they realized the cost of loss of volunteers due to the fees, they diverted the cost of the background checks to the taxpayers. 

The executive pastor at a church where a homeschool co-op meets has been working closely with the church's lawyers on the effects of Act 153. He believes that the background checks will unfairly disqualify individuals who have criminal records. Here is what he wrote regarding his concerns when a mom shared the fee waiver announcement with him.  

"That is indeed good news. Much more clarity is needed as to WHO these things apply to as well as thinking clearly about what kind of offenses would disqualify you from working with children. For example, aggravated assault. Break a bottle in a bar fight and you can be convicted of that when you are 21. Does that really mean you shouldn’t be able to work with kids 20 years later? What if you mooned someone as a high school prank and were convicted of indecent exposure. Guess what, 30-40 years later, you fail background checks.  I’m grateful they are revising the law, I just hope they go far enough."   
"It is astonishing to me they included 'indecent exposure' as a disqualifying offense on equal par with rape and murder of children. But in this law they are treated exactly the same. Likewise, aggravated assault. In my pursuit of information I engaged legal council who talked with the office of children and youth directly and, essentially, anyone with any of these convictions cannot ever work anywhere where they would ever have contact with children. Like McDonalds. Really?
"In essence, the way this current law is written, a crime punishable by a $100 fine (misdemeanor indecent exposure) is now equal to one that earns a life sentence (rape and murder of a child)."
These examples demonstrate that our legislature needs to consider that not every criminal offender is predatory. We need to make our legislators do diligent work before making omnibus legislations such as Act 153 because it sure seems like they are creating a hostile environment and a dangerous child abuse hysteria.

A man was charged with indecent exposure for urinating outside of a rest stop when he was an older teen. The line for the bathroom was too long and he really had to go, so he picked out a tree.  This is not what I would consider appropriate, but it certainly doesn't indicate he is a danger to children. If he was "caught" in Pennsylvania, he would be barred from his own children's activities.

Because these changes expand the definition of "mandatory reporter," volunteers who are not trained to recognize abuse or neglect will be legally liable if they fail to report a "reasonable suspicion" of child abuse. There is already an abundance of reports made each year that are unfounded.  Unfounded reports increase the workload for social workers who are charged with the responsibility of helping abused children.

One Pennsylvania family I personally know was hotlined a few years ago with the allegation they had no food in their home - the person making the report "saw the family at the grocery store" and figured they must not have food.  The report was unfounded, but these are the kinds of situations that divert necessary resources away from children who are genuinely in need of help.  Statistically, around 7 out of 10 reports are unfounded now, and these changes will only increase those numbers, placing abused children at greater risk of being "missed" by the system.

Requiring untrained citizens to report anything suspicious (or face penalties) will flood an already over-worked system, placing demands on social workers to investigate baseless complaints, while children who are truly abused slip through the cracks.  Unless the legislature is prepared to substantially increase the size of Children and Youth Services, these changes (though well-intentioned) will increase the number of abused children who will not receive help due to lack of resources.

Additionally, the person making the report has the right to obtain information about the outcome of the investigation.  While at first this may seem reasonable, there are a number of concerns that have been raised.  Is the person making the report bound by the same confidentiality laws as Children and Youth Services?
Will perpetrators of domestic violence be able to make false reports and gain access to information about the investigation that will put the victim (and children) in danger?  Will the state be required to take action against people who make repeated false reports against a family?  How will the state protect children from being harassed, or investigated repeatedly, when reporters are upset their report was "unfounded"?  How will children's private medical and educational records be protected?  

The mandatory background checks for parent-volunteers will likely lead to a decrease in opportunities for children when parents have a criminal history - even if it is not one that would ban them from being involved, as many parents will not want their friends to know about their backgrounds. For example, if a parent is convicted of stealing money from his employer during a time of hardship, that would not disqualify that parent from participating, but would likely lead to a change in how parents interact with that family.

They also need to realize that they are discouraging acts of service and child enrichment when they automatically criminalize us and gives us the burden of proof to show ourselves innocent before we can serve other children. 

ACTION STEPS to mainstream our efforts:

1 - Call your local State Senator and voice your complaint that -

          a. The law will increase unfounded reports by turning untrained volunteers into mandatory reporters.

          b. Unfounded reports harm innocent families.

          c. Unfounded reports divert resources away from abused children who need help.

          d. There is no protection for victims of domestic violence when their abuser reports them, and can then obtain information about the outcome of the report.

          e. There is no requirement that the department establish procedures for prosecuting false and malicious reports.

          f. There are no provisions to require additional training for mandatory reporters who (in good faith) make repeated unfounded reports.

          g. This law is intrusive, accusatory and oppressive

          h. Compliance to this law makes for a hostile environment

Ask him/her to amend it with text that exclude homeschool co-ops where parents teach and stay on site.

2 - Call everyone in the Senate leadership. We need them to clearly amend Act 153 of 2014 via HB1276 with text that protect parental rights and exempt co-ops where parents teach and stay on site with their own children.

3 - Help spread awareness to the issue by sharing this blog post and encourage others to action to protect parental rights, to protect our families, and to protect our religious rights and freedom of assembly.

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