Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) called for greater collaboration and information sharing between agencies tasked with protecting children following the PA House Children and Youth Committee meeting he hosted Wednesday in Montgomery Township.
“The hearing made clear we need our schools, law enforcement agencies and county offices of children and youth to work together to better protect children,” said Stephens, a former child abuse prosecutor.
While some greater collaboration can be accomplished through changes in practices or procedures, several testifiers said state and federal laws prevented entities from sharing information with other agencies.
“To the extent state law prohibits sharing information, I’ll be working to reform our laws to ensure our child protection agencies and schools have the information they need to protect children,” Stephens said.
The hearing was called following a lawsuit filed by a North Penn student who was assaulted repeatedly by a fellow student, transferred to another school to escape her attacker, but was never told her assailant had also been transferred to the new school due to confidentiality laws that protect minors. In August 2018, the two were placed in the same class and in assigned seats next to each other.
“Sometimes we need to proactively shine a light on our institutions and demand that they do better, and in just about all cases information must flow to and from those involved with our children, especially our vulnerable children,” said Ed McCann, the first assistant district attorney in Montgomery County in written testimony. “There may be instances where a student has committed a violent act at school. In such cases, the information should be shared with law enforcement, and if the student is required to enroll at a different school, the appropriate individuals there should know as well. A response we prefer not to hear from a school is that appropriate information cannot be shared because of the existence of specific laws.”
Police chiefs from Horsham, Montgomery, Towamencin and Whitemarsh Townships testified about discrepancies between state mandated Safe Schools Reports that school districts must file with the state and the reports local police departments received from school districts.
But it is critical school administrators be “informed about the red flags of abuse,” said Brian D. Kent, Esq., with the firm Laffey, Bucci & Kent. “Children who are abused need to feel safe and they need to be believed. Instead, time and again, we have seen people respond to abuse trying to find reason is didn’t happen.”
“The issue of confidentiality in child welfare can be extremely confusing for many people,” said Brian Bornman, executive director of Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators. “Information sharing that many would consider to be common sense is often prohibited,
including some that may make children safer in certain circumstances.”
“As legislators, our job is to find a way forward, to balance confidentiality with transparency and accountability to ensure we’re doing all we can to protect children in Pennsylvania,” Stephens said.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster