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Joe Paterno Scandal Highlights Pennsylvania’s Pitiful Child Protection

Updated on June 2, 2014

Joe Paterno Fired

Local newspapers have front page coverage of sad incidents in Penn State Athletic Department.
Local newspapers have front page coverage of sad incidents in Penn State Athletic Department. | Source

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.


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      suzettenaples, I totally agree with you. We often wait for a tragedy to create fire safety laws, or to install a new traffic signal. The current governor of Pa is calling for better child safety laws. As far as Penn State goes, I think before it's all over we will be seeing Trustees implicated in the cover-up. Stupid and sad behavior.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 6 years ago from Taos, NM

      I agree with you, PA child services organizations and laws are lax. But, the buck stops with Joe Paterno. Yes, he reported it, but then why keep the man on your football staff? Yes, I am a retired teacher and even if any type of abuse is SUSPECTED it should be reported. Not to follow up on this and what is happening is gross negligence. Paterno is the head coach and this happened on this watch. Sorry, but he is responsible as well as the other Penn State officials that knew about it and did nothing.

      Perhaps this scandal will motivate PA to toughen their child services laws, but do we always as a country have to wait until something of this magnitude happens to change things?

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      The Associated Press confirms: many states require someone who witnesses or suspects child abuse to report to the workplace (if applicable) supervisor AND to the police. Pennsylvania is in the minority with its laxity.