New Background Check and Child Abuse Reporting Requirements Can Affect Apartment Communities
Recent additions to Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) have expanded the group of individuals who need background checks or who must report suspected child abuse. Employees of apartment communities, particularly those who have “direct contact with children,” as defined in the law, could be affected by the new requirements. PA's Department of Human Services provides a FAQ sheet regarding who needs certifications. Lifeguards and others are among those who are likely included in the new requirements, based on their contact with children.
In what could be the first of many state agencies to intensify their enforcement of CPSL, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has begun to contact “public bathing place facilities,” and are including apartments with pools. The Health Department is sending letters to inform the facilities about the impact the new CPSL requirements could have on their employees or volunteers. The Health Department has taken the position that lifeguards at apartment pools need background checks.
The Health Department considers apartment community pools as “public bathing places,” defined in Pennsylvania law as,
“…an outdoor or indoor place used for amateur, professional or recreative [sic] swimming or bathing whether or not a fee is charged for admission or for the use of the place, exclusive of a bathing place at a private, single-family residence which is used solely by the owner of the residence, his family and their personal guests.” (see 28 PA Code Chapter 18 Public Swimming and Bathing Places).
The Health Department notes those affected could include individuals in management positions, lifeguards, swim lesson instructors, coaches, and other individuals that have direct contact with children as defined in the law.
“Direct contact with children” is defined as “The care, supervision, guidance or control of children or routine interaction with children”.
Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law
At least 23 bills amending the CPSL were passed into law during 2013 and 2014, in response to notorious cases of child abuse in Pennsylvania. The amendments are intended to strengthen requirements for reporting child abuse, broaden the rules for employee and volunteer background checks, and intensify penalties for noncompliance. Additional changes went into effect on July 1st, 2015, when Governor Wolf signed Act 15 of 2015 into law.
Individuals 14 years or older who apply or hold a paid position as an employee with a program, activity or service, as a person responsible for a child’s welfare or who have direct contact with children are now required to submit to their employer:
1. A report of criminal history record information from the Pennsylvania State Police or a statement from the Pennsylvania State Police that the State Police central repository contains no such information relating to that person.
2. A certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as to whether the applicant is named in a statewide database as a perpetrator in a pending child abuse investigation or of a founded child abuse report or an indicated report.
3. A report of Federal criminal history record information. The applicant must also submit a set of fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police for the record check, and the State Police must submit the fingerprints to the FBI for verifying the identity of the applicant.
Information and links to applications for the above listed reports and clearances can be found at the state “Keep Kids Safe” website: www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov/clearances
Reporting Suspected Child Abuse:
The recently amended CPSL explicitly encourages everyone to report suspected child abuse, and makes reporting mandatory for specific employees and volunteers who have contact with children.
Those required to report suspected child abuse include individuals paid or unpaid, who, on the basis of the individual’s role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity or service, is responsible for a child’s welfare or has direct contact with children. Individuals supervised or managed by the person responsible for the child’s welfare or who has direct contact are also considered as mandated reporters. Independent contractors are included as well.
Mandated reporters are required to report suspected child abuse they may encounter during the course of their employment, when they are directly responsible for the supervision or care of the child, or when someone makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter. The law specifies certain reporting procedures.
Those making good faith reports as mandated will have immunity from civil and criminal liability. Penalties for willful failure to make a mandated report include charging the mandated reporter with a felony of the third degree.
Significance for Apartment Communities:
Since “direct contact with children” defined as, “The care, supervision, guidance or control of children or routine interaction with children,” could encompass certain personnel at apartment communities, owners are urged to consult their own legal counsel regarding the specifics of their situations and whether the expanded Child Protective Services Law applies to them.
Independent contractors, such as pool services firms that provide lifeguards to apartment pools, are included in the CPSL mandates. An independent contractor is defined as, “an individual who provides a program, activity or service to an agency, institution, organization or other entity, including a school or regularly established religions organization, that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children. The term does not include an individual who has no direct contact with children.” A broad reading of that definition suggests the need for rental owners to consult with their legal counsel regarding their specific situations. Possible liability could attach to rental owners whose independent contractors are not in compliance with the CPSL.