Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Pennsylvania

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, §§ 6311; 6313

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is an abused or neglected child shall make a report to the Department of Human Services.

An oral report shall be made immediately to the department via the statewide toll-free telephone number under § 6332 or a written report using electronic technologies under § 6305. A mandated reporter making an oral report also shall make a written report, which may be submitted electronically, within 48 hours to the department or county agency assigned to the case in a manner and format prescribed by the department.

Content of Reports

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6313

The written reports shall include the following information, if known:

  • The names and addresses of the child, child's parents, and any other person responsible for the child's welfare
  • Where the suspected abuse occurred
  • The age and sex of each subject of the report
  • The nature and extent of the suspected abuse, including any evidence of prior abuse to the child or any sibling of the child
  • The name and relationship of the person responsible for causing the suspected abuse and any evidence of prior abuse by that person
  • Family composition
  • The source of the report
  • The name, telephone number, and email address of the person making the report
  • The actions taken by the person making the report, including actions related to the following:
    • Taking photographs
    • Performing medical tests and x-rays of the child
    • Taking the child into protective custody
    • Admitting the child to a hospital
    • Mandatory reporting and postmortem investigation of deaths
  • Any other information required by Federal law or regulation
  • Any other information that the department may require by regulation

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6317

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has died as a result of abuse or neglect shall report that suspicion to the appropriate coroner or medical examiner. The coroner or medical examiner shall accept the report for investigation and shall report his finding to the police, the district attorney, the appropriate county agency, and, if the report is made by a hospital, the hospital.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6386

For the purpose of assessing a child and the child's family for a plan of safe care, a health-care provider shall immediately notify the department if the provider is involved in the delivery or care of a child under age 1 and the health-care provider has determined, based on standards of professional practice, the child was born affected by either of the following:

  • Substance use or withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure
  • A fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

The notification by a health-care provider to the department and any transmittal to the county agency by the department shall not constitute a child abuse report.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, §§ 6305; 6332; 6366

The department shall establish procedures for the secure and confidential use of electronic technologies to transmit information, including the filing of reports and other required records. A confirmation by the department of the receipt of a report of suspected child abuse submitted electronically shall relieve the person making the report of making an additional oral or written report of suspected child abuse.

The department shall establish a single statewide toll-free telephone number that all persons, whether mandated by law or not, may use to report cases of suspected child abuse or children allegedly in need of general protective services. A county agency or law enforcement official shall use the statewide toll-free telephone number or electronic technologies for determining the existence of reports of child abuse or general protective services reports in the statewide database or reports under investigation.

Each county agency shall receive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all reports, both oral and written, of suspected child abuse in accordance with this chapter, the county plan for the provision of child protective services, and the regulations of the department.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6334

Upon receipt of a complaint of suspected child abuse, the department shall immediately transmit an oral notice or a notice by electronic technologies orally to the appropriate county agency notice that the complaint of suspected child abuse has been received and the substance of the complaint. If the central register or the pending complaint file contains information indicating a prior report or a current investigation concerning a subject of the report, the department shall immediately notify the appropriate county agency of this fact. If the department receives a report of suspected child abuse that also alleges that a criminal offense has been committed against the child, the department shall immediately transmit an oral notice or notice by electronic technologies to the appropriate law enforcement official in the county where the suspected child abuse is alleged to have occurred.

If the complaint does not suggest suspected child abuse but does suggest a need for social services or other services or investigation, the department shall transmit the information to the county agency or other public agency for appropriate action. The information shall not be considered a child abuse report unless the agency to which the information was referred has reasonable cause to suspect after investigation that abuse occurred. If the agency has reasonable cause to suspect that abuse occurred, the agency shall notify the department, and the initial complaint shall be considered to have been a child abuse report.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, §§ 6334.1; 6303

The department shall establish procedures regarding the following different responses to address suspected child abuse depending on the person who allegedly committed the abuse or neglect:

  • If the abuse is alleged to have been committed by a perpetrator, the appropriate county agency shall investigate the allegation.
  • If the abuse is alleged to have been committed by a perpetrator and the suspected abuse may include a violation of a criminal offense, the appropriate county agency and law enforcement officials shall jointly investigate the allegation.
  • If the abuse is alleged to have been committed by a person who is not a perpetrator, and the suspected child abuse may include a violation of a criminal offense, law enforcement officials where the abuse is alleged to have occurred shall be solely responsible for investigating the allegation.
  • If a child is alleged to be in need of other protective services, the appropriate county agency shall assess the needs of the child.

The term 'perpetrator' includes only the following:

  • A parent of the child
  • A spouse, former spouse, paramour, or former paramour of the child's parent
  • A person age 14 or older and responsible for the child's welfare or having direct contact with children as an employee of child care services, a school, or through a program, activity, or service
  • A person age 14 or older who resides in the same home as the child
  • A person age 18 or older who does not reside in the same home but is related to the child by birth or adoption
  • A person age 18 or older who engages a child in severe forms of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking

Only the following may be considered a perpetrator for failing to act:

  • A parent
  • The parent's spouse, former spouse, paramour, or former paramour
  • A person age 18 or older who is responsible for the child's welfare or resides in the same home

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6368

An investigation shall include the following:

  • A determination of the safety of, or risk of harm to, the child or any other child if each child continues to remain in the existing home environment
  • A determination of the nature, extent, and cause of any condition listed in the report
  • Any action necessary to provide for the safety of the child or any other child in the child's household
  • Taking photographic identification of the child or any other child in the child's household

During the investigation, all the following shall apply:

  • The county agency shall provide or arrange for services necessary to protect the child while the agency is making its determination.
  • If the investigation indicates bodily injury, the county agency may require that a medical examination by a certified medical practitioner be performed on the child.
  • When there is reasonable cause to suspect that there is a history of prior or current abuse, the medical practitioner has the authority to arrange for further medical tests or the county agency has the authority to request further medical tests.

The investigation shall include interviews with all subjects of the report, including the alleged perpetrator. If a subject of the report is not able to be interviewed or cannot be located, the county agency shall document its reasonable efforts to interview the subject and the reasons for its inability to interview the subject. The interview may be reasonably delayed if notice of the investigation has been delayed.

Prior to interviewing a subject of the report, the county agency shall orally notify the subject who is about to be interviewed of the existence of the report, the subject's right to counsel, and other basic rights.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6368

Upon receipt of each report of suspected child abuse, the county agency shall immediately commence an appropriate investigation and see the child immediately if emergency protective custody is required or has been or shall be taken or if it cannot be determined from the report whether emergency protective custody is needed. Otherwise, the county agency shall commence an appropriate investigation and see the child within 24 hours of receipt of the report.

The investigation by the county agency to determine whether the report is founded, indicated, or unfounded and whether to accept the family for service shall be completed within 60 days in all cases.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303

Child abuse reports may be classified as follows:

  • Founded report: There has been any judicial adjudication based on a finding that a child who is a subject of the report has been abused, including the entry of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or a finding of guilt to a criminal charge involving the same factual circumstances involved in the allegation of child abuse.
  • Indicated report: An investigation by the county agency or the department determines that substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists based on any of the following:
    • Available medical evidence
    • The child protective service investigation
    • An admission of the acts of abuse by the perpetrator
  • Unfounded report: The report of child abuse or neglect is neither a founded nor indicated report.

The term 'substantiated child abuse' refers to child abuse for which there is an indicated report or founded report.