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Joe Paterno Scandal Highlights Pennsylvania’s Pitiful Child Protection
Joe Paterno Fired
First, I never went to Penn State. I don’t have any particular loyalty towards it and I find some of the alums and sports fans to be slightly obnoxious. My pre-November thoughts on Joe Paterno? He seemed to be a good guy and a successful coach, but I thought he should have retired a couple of years ago. This was not based on any sports knowledge at all: just a gut feel that he was delegating his entire job and was nothing more than a figurehead. I could be wrong.
As of November 9, 2011, I was forced to dig out newspapers from the past week to educate myself on a “sex scandal” in which JoePa did not participate, but seemingly did something wrong. Why else was his name mentioned on front pages so much that we Pennsylvanians couldn’t avoid it?
On November 10, 2011 I learn that Joe Paterno, and the President of the Penn State University, and several other members of the college athletic department have been fired or otherwise removed. Now I dig into the news.
Sports are Not High on my List of Interests
If you couldn’t already tell, I am not a sports blogger. However, as Joe Paterno is almost as much of a Pennsylvania Mascot as is “Punxatawny Phil” (the prognosticating groundhog), my curiosity was piqued. It looks like many people committed sins of omission. But, the people I most strongly accuse are not Penn State employees.
Pennsylvania’s Bad Reputation
I have been a teacher in private and public schools in Pennsylvania. Additionally, I have worked with children in other capacities in this commonwealth. As a worker in child-related care, one quickly learns that Pennsylvania does not do a good job of protecting children. The names for the agencies involved are PA Department of Public Welfare and county Children and Youth Services Agencies. They fall short.
For example, if a ruling body determines that a minor is being sexually abused by an adult in the household, that child is removed and placed in protective foster care. However, if other minors also live in the household, they remain there – Unprotected, vulnerable, and available to the perpetrator to replace the first victim. What kind of insanity is prevailing in this practice?
Another area where Pennsylvania fails to protect children is in its system of mandatory reporting obligations. By this, I mean the list of what people (usually defined as a workplace role) absolutely may not “keep silent” about suspicion that a child is being abused without suffering legal penalties. New York state and other states have much clearer training and chains of communication for this reporting. Consequently, from where I sit, it appears that Joe Paterno met his legal obligations to report the suspicion (remember he was not a witness to anything) to his direct superior. Is it Joe’s responsibility to insure that his superior does the correct reporting? I think that this sad series of events must provide the impetus to change Pennsylvania reporting laws.
District Attorney and DPW Inaction?
What has my blood boiling comes from an Associated Press “Sandusky chronology – Key dates in the Penn State sex abuse case,” published in my local newspaper on November 8th. In this list, it seems that the heinous behavior commenced around 1996-1998. With the cooperation of one victim’s mother in 1998, civilian police AND an investigator for the Department of Public Welfare collect damning evidence against Sandusky. Despite this, the County District Attorney decides that there will be no criminal charges brought.
This is unconscionable. Officials in the Department of Public Welfare and in the District Attorney’s office should be brought to task for this – and tarring and feathering would be too good for them, in my opinion.
Possible Solutions Going Forward
Any District Attorney who behaves irresponsibly in failing to prosecute child abuse situations should be disbarred for life.
Any manager in the Department of Public Welfare who fails to rigorously follow-up founded suspicions of child abuse should be prevented from: (a) working with or for children in Pennsylvania, and (b) prevented from working in any capacity as a state employee.
The laws should be amended to require mandatory reporters to report incidents to 3 venues: their work superior, the local police, and the Department of Public Welfare. Furthermore, they should have ways to document that they have complied in a timely fashion.
This is a very ugly blot on Pennsylvania, but sadly not an isolated case – just a sensational one. Please let some good come of it through child protection reform.
Photo and text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan, all rights reserved.