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As Sandusky Trial Continues, Panel Works To Strengthen Child Protection Laws


In the wake of child sex abuse charges against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, state lawmakers have created a panel to look for ways to improve child protection laws and procedures.

The group's most recent meeting came as alleged victims testified against Sandusky, prompting soul-searching questions from panel members.

Department of Public Welfare deputy secretary Bev Mackereth said the attention child abuse issues are receiving because of the case involving Sandusky is undeniable, but she worries attempted child protection fixes won't be long-lasting because they aren't rooted in any one government office or in individual communities.

"That's something for all of us to really consider, because we've been here," said Mackereth. "We were here when there were other child deaths, we were here when there were other sensational cases, and then we kind of go about our business, and there's no home."

Doctor David Turkewitz, the chair of pediatrics at York Hospital, told the panel the scandal underscores the confusion surrounding rules for reporting abuse for school employees.

"Reporting of school-related abuse is confusing. I've been doing this a long time and I'm still confused," said Turkewitz, "and reading all the newspapers about the Sandusky stuff, I'm not alone. Everybody is confused in terms of all the grayness there. Throw that stuff out. It makes no sense. It is not child-focused."

He said it's pretty obvious the commonwealth's child abuse law requires revision.

"The legal definition of child abuse in Pennsylvania hinges on a guesstimate of what causes severe pain and what defines disability. It's just far too nebulous," Turkewitz said.

Other suggestions before the Task Force on Child Protection include creating an independent office to oversee the state's child abuse system, and giving it a dedicated funding source that won't be subject to cuts in tough budget years.

The panel's final recommendations are due in November.