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Pennsylvania's New Child Protection Law and Its Interplay with Custody

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A few changes in 2013 and 2014 to the Child Protective Services Law ("CPSL") have two major changes involving child custody.

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By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Child Custody Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

The newly-enacted law focused on enhancing child protection emerged after the Jerry Sandusky prosecution.  These laws came into effect in 2013 and 2014 and have some effects on child custody matters in Pennsylvania.  Two major changes involve child abuse by a parent and what needs to be reported in a child custody proceeding.

Child Abuse by a Parent

One such area is what may be considered as "child abuse" by a parent.  The CPSL now provides that it is child abuse for a parent to leave a child in the care and custody person who is known, or reasonably should be known, to be one of an enumerated list of sexually violent predators.  This section specifically excludes a parent with whom a child may be left.

What does it mean that I should "reasonably know?"

This begs the obvious question: How far does a parent need to go to determine the background of people a child is left?  What does "knows or reasonably should have known" mean?  A parent should take special precautionary measures to determine things about sitters, daycare workers, and anyone who will be in the "care and custody" of their child.  Daycares and teachers are mandated by the State to obtain these clearances.  However, I would suggest this includes asking a sitter for proof that they have a current child line clearance.  These reports are free and can be obtained online and, in most cases, within 3 days of request. Folks can log into the Child Welfare Portal provided by the Commonwealth and get such report.  Parents should also run the party's name through the online Megan's Law Registry through the Pennsylvania State Police.  Finally, ask questions to the person with whom you are leaving your children.  

  • Do you have a record?
  • Have you ever been arrested; for what?
  • Do you have references- call them!
  • Do you have children?
  • Have you ever been involved with children and youth; for what?

Parents to a child custody proceeding have to report criminal records and CYS involvement on a "5329 Report"

The other major change occurred in January 2014.  Under the Child Custody Act, parties to a child custody matter must disclose prior convictions of a list of enumerated offenses and any prior involvement with a child protective services agency such as children and youth services ("CYS").  This rule, 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5329.1, applies to either party or any adult living in the home of the party.  There is a requirement in the law for the establishment of a database to deal with reports of child abuse, the status of court and agency actions, family case records, information on reports made to an agency, and any false reports. This database is not yet up and running.

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