PA Child Protection Laws

Pennsylvania’s Child Protection Laws

Revised July 16, 2015 by Carla Campbell, Stated Clerk

On July 1, 2015 Governor Wolf signed into law further revisions to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, effective immediately. These changes clarify some provisions of the sweeping changes enacted effective January 1, 2015. The portions of the child protection statutes particularly applicable to churches are summarized below, with significant updates noted.

Background Checks & Clearances

Who Needs Them?
How to Obtain Clearances
Deadlines
Renewal Requirement for Clearances
Portability of Clearances
Record Keeping Requirements
Presumption of Good Faith and Criminal Liability

Mandatory Reporting

Who is a Mandated Reporter?
How to Make a Report

Mandatory Reporter Training Requirements for Child Care Workers
Resources


Background Checks & Clearances

A primary focus of this new legislation was “clarify and make more explicit” provisions regarding background checks and clearances for employees and adult volunteers who work with children. The goal especially is to strike a balance between protecting children and not making the background check requirements for volunteers so onerous that programs beneficial to children are adversely affected. Below is a summary of the clearance requirements and process.

Who Needs Them?

Adult employees 
Adults who in the course of their paid employment are responsible for the
welfare of a child direct contact” with cor who have “children are required to have:

Direct contact with children is defined as “the care, supervision, guidance or control of children or routine interaction with children.” The revised statute now adds a definition of “routine interaction” as “[r]egular and repeated contact that is integral to a person’s employment or volunteer responsibilities.” Under this definition, administrative staff may not be included, although custodial staff members who work during hours when children occupy a building likely would be. Many churches are opting to err on the side of caution and have all employees who are present when children are in the building obtain the clearances.

Minor Employees
Minors between the ages of 14 and 17 who are responsible for the welfare of a child or who have direct contact with children as defined above must have the Pennsylvania criminal history record check and child abuse clearances.

Unlike adult employees, however, minor employees need not have the federal criminal history check if:

  • they have been residents of Pennsylvania for the entire ten-year period prior to their employment; or
  • they have previously received the federal criminal history background check and supply a copy to the employer; AND,
  • the minor’s parent or legal guardian swears or affirms in writing that the individual is not disqualified from service under the statute or has not been convicted of an offense listed in or similar to those listed in the statute under the law or former law of the Commonwealth or any other jurisdiction, including foreign nations.

Adult Volunteers
All adults applying for or holding an unpaid position who are responsible for the child’s welfare or who have “direct volunteer contact with children” must obtain the same clearances as adult employees, except that the federal criminal history background check is not required if the volunteer:

  • they have been residents of Pennsylvania for the entire ten-year period prior to their employment; or
  • they have previously received the federal criminal history background check and supply a copy to the employer; AND,
  • the prospective volunteer swears or affirms in writing that the individual is not disqualified from service under the statute or has not been convicted of an offense listed in or similar to those listed in the statute under the law or former law of the Commonwealth or any other jurisdiction, including foreign nations.

The new legislation provides for permanent waiver of the fees for the Pennsylvania criminal history record check and child abuse clearance for  volunteers for one set of clearances every 57 months. The fees associated with the federal criminal history background check, if required, have not been waived.

Provisional clearances are available for non-resident volunteers who may serve as volunteers within the Commonwealth for up to a total of 30 days in one calendar year provided that the volunteer is in compliance with the clearance standards of the jurisdiction where the volunteer is domiciled and provides documentation of this compliance to the person responsible for selection of volunteers.

Temporary Employment of Foreign Nationals
An individual holding a non-immigrant Visa commonly called a J-1 Visa is not required to submit any of the clearances or background checks provided that all of the following apply:

    • the individual is applying for or holds a paid position for a period of 90 days
      or less within one calendar year; and,
    • the individual has not been employed previously within the Commonwealth, any other state, the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico; and,
    • the individual swears or affirms in writing that he or she is not disqualified from service under the statute or has not been convicted of an offense listed in or similar to those listed in the statute under the law or former law of the Commonwealth or any other jurisdiction, including foreign nations.

How to Obtain Clearances?

A brief explanation of how to obtain the required clearances, with links to the websites whenever possible, follows. Please note that that sharp increase in the number of applicants for these clearances and background checks has slowed the processing time.

Pennsylvania State Police Criminal History Record Information

The most-expedient way to obtain this certification is to apply online, using a credit card to pay the fee, if applicable.
In order to apply on paper, download the application form on the Criminal History  page of the Keep Kids Safe site.  Note that the fee must be paid via certified check or money order and that the estimated time for return is longer.

Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance
You must also apply online for the Child Abuse History Clearance. Online applicants may pay the required fee, if applicable, via credit card. Paper applications are permitted, but payment must be made by check or money order. Download the form from the Keep Kids Safe site.   Keep in mind that paper application return times are longer.  Note that the application for this clearance requires listing all addresses where the applicant has resided since 1975 and the names and current ages of all household members since 1975.

Agencies and businesses can pay for child abuse history clearances by registering for a Business Partner user account using the  Child Welfare Information Solution (CWIS) self-service portal. The business account will allow organizations to purchase Child Abuse clearance payment codes to be distributed to applicants or employees. Individual applicants or employees will then go onto the Child Welfare Portal to apply for the clearance using the code. The pre-purchased codes can only be used once and allows the organization to have access to the applicant’s Child Abuse clearance results once those results are processed.

Federal Criminal History Background Check
Please visit the criminal history page of the Keep Kids Safe site for instructions on obtaining the federal background check. Prior to having fingerprints taken, an applicant must first make an appointment online at IDentoGo. Search the site for the location closest to you to check hours of operation, available appointment times, and contact information for that location.

The website also provides information for applicants whose prints cannot be taken electronically or those presently located out of state who must have ink cards made and submitted.


Deadlines

New volunteers and employees must have the clearances prior to the start of their employment or volunteer activity.

A current employee who previously was not required to obtain clearances, but now is must have them, must comply by December 31, 2015. A current volunteer who previously was not required to have the clearances, but who was approved as a volunteer prior to July 1, 2015, must comply by July 1, 2016.

Any employee or volunteer who has current clearances (referred to as certifications in the statute) issued prior to July 1, 2015 must obtain new clearances within 60 months from the date of the person’s oldest certification, or if their certifications are older than 60 months, by July 1, 2016.


Renewal Requirement for Clearances

Under the revised statute, all clearances must be renewed every 60 months. This is an increase from the 36-month time period in the earlier statute.


Portability of Clearances

Those who obtain clearances as an employee may use them to volunteer with another agency or organization, however, clearances obtained for volunteering may not be used for employment. Clearances obtained to volunteer with one organization may be used to volunteer with another.

An employee who has obtained clearances may transfer those clearances to another subsidiary or branch established and supervised by the same organization. Thus, an employee who obtains clearances to work as a paid employee in a church’s child care center may transfer those clearances to work in its nursery school.

An employee with current clearances may use them to apply for or serve with a new employer provided that the employee swears or affirms in writing that he or she has not been disqualified from employment under this statute or has not been convicted of an offense listed in or similar to those listed in the statute under the law or former law of the Commonwealth or any other jurisdiction, including foreign nations.


Record Keeping Requirements

The employer, administrator, supervisor or other person responsible for employment decisions or the acceptance of individuals to serve in any capacity, including volunteers, must require a new employee or volunteer to produce the original documents prior to service and must maintain copies of the documents for all employees and volunteers as they obtain clearances or renewals. These documents are to be kept strictly confidential.


Presumption of Good Faith and Criminal Liability

The revised statute explicitly provides that for purposes of criminal liability, the “employer, administrator, supervisor or other person responsible for the selection of volunteers” is presumed to have acted in good faith when identifying individuals who are required to submit background checks and clearances and maintaining records. However, if such a person commits a misdemeanor of the third degree if he or she “intentionally fails to require” the submission of the required background checks and clearances prior to approving that person as an employee or volunteer.


Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse

Who is a Mandated Reporter?

Another important change relevant to churches is the addition of clergy, staff, and volunteers who regularly work with children to those who must report suspected child abuse under penalty of law. The statute also extends to those “supervised or managed” by mandatory reporters listed in the statute “who has direct contact with children in the course of employment. The revisions effective July 1, 2015 specifically provide that “administrative and support personnel” are not mandatory reporters unless the individual has “direct contact with children.” Independent contractors are specifically included within definition of mandated reporters as well. Mandatory reporting requirements only apply to adults, not minor employees or volunteers. A discussion of “frequently asked questions” about the mandatory reporting provision follows.


How to Make a Report?

Reports must be made directly by the person who suspects that abuse has,occurred. It is no longer sufficient to merely report suspicion of abuse to a supervisor, however, only one report per institution is necessary. Reports may be made electronically at http://www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis/public/home or by calling 1-800-932-0313. After making the report, a mandatory reporter must notify the person in charge of the church or agency. If a report is made by telephone, the reporter must file an electronic or written report within 48 hours of making the oral report. The written report, form CY-47, is sent to the Children and Youth office in the county where the alleged abuse will be investigated. The reporter should keep a copy of the written form CY-47 or of the email confirmation of an electronic report for his or her own
records in a separate confidential file. Please note that those seeking to report abuse have encountered significant delays during the first six months of the broadened statute’s effectiveness. If you have any concern that a child is in danger and you are unable to make an immediate report, please dial 911.


Mandatory Reporter Training Requirements for Child Care Workers

A final change is the requirement for training in child abuse recognition and reporting for child care workers in all state-licensed facilities. Employees of such facilities must have had three hours of training no later than June 30, 2015. Three hours of training is required every five years thereafter. New employees must have three hours of training within 90 days of hire.


Resources

For further information, forms, and links, the most comprehensive source is www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov. Two sets of frequently asked questions regarding both employee and volunteer clearance requirements prepared by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services are on the CPM Guidelines & Resources page.