Penn State announced today that they now require all employees to report suspected child abuse to state authorities. Many advocates will express raging ambivalence that this is too little too late, and there is some truth to that. But consider the fact that Pennsylvania laws specify one of the most limited groups of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse of any state in the country. The only people required by Pennsylvania law to report suspected child abuse are people who “in the course of their employment, occupation, or practice of their profession”, come into contact with children; many states require anyone who knows or suspects abuse to contact authorities. Very few institutions anywhere adopt policies that go beyond the state requirements; Penn State is certainly to be commended for doing that.
As a prevention advocate I feel compelled to use this opportunity to emphasize my strongly held belief that we need to spent as much effort educating the public how to prevent child abuse as we spend educating the public on reporting child abuse. What might happen if everybody who comes into contact with children in the course of their occupation played a role in prevention? Physicians could follow the suggestion of the American Academy of Pediatricians and provide parents with anticipatory guidance so they know how to interpret and react to their child’s moods and behavior. Health teachers could provide accurate information about the human body so pedophiles couldn’t trap kids lacking understanding of autonomic arousal. Crossing guards might receive in-service training to help identify predators. The list could go on!
Penn State did a good thing by adding all of their employees to the narrow list of mandated reporters of child abuse in Pennsylvania. But can we please start looking at what else we all might do so that there are fewer cases to report?