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New bill aims to close child abuse reporting "loophole"

HANOVER TWP., LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) - Students step inside Michelle Zapotoski's office for academic guidance. But as a school counselor, she's been exposed to other issues, like child abuse.

"Sometimes the abuse is a communication issue and students needs aren't being met," said Zapotoski.

As a school professional, she is lawfully required to report child abuse. But State Representative Todd Stephens says a loophole in the law does not require mandated reporters to report suspected abuse they *personally* witness outside of their duties. He wants to change that with a new bill.

"In the end, our goal is to make sure that any time a child is abused, the property authorities are notified," said Stephens.

The executive director of the Luzerne County Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children  says when you see something, it's always commendable to say something. But he has some concerns about the bill as proposed.

"Do you approach, for example, the parent striking the child. How do you get the information so you can identify who the child is so you can make the  proper report," said John Aciukewicz with CASA.

Representative Stephens say it's just up to the witness to get as much information as possible. Some child advocates worry that the bill - if passed - could lead to more unfounded reports of abuse and a backlog for children and youth services who have already seen a spike in referrals in recent years. Officials at the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services office don't necessarily agree.

"If people already felt they were mandated reporters 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless if they were at work, I don't know that we'd see any increase," said Deanna German, the deputy director at the Luzerne County CYS.

"We  believe that anything that encourages people to report suspected child abuse is a good thing," German added.


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