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Corbett’s effort to end child abuse must focus on intervention

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will spend the early part of 2014 trying to revive his political career on issues like child abuse. Although Corbett lost a great deal of his credibility on the subject due to his connection to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, he now returns to the social issues that he built his career on as Attorney General. Unfortunately, his current efforts may not be enough as the ability to take action against child abuse is just as important as what action is taken.

Starting with ten pieces of legislation signed into law at the end of December, 2013, Corbett is well on his way to reforming how child abuse is defined, reported, and investigated. Through House Bill 726, Corbett managed to broaden the legal definition of child abuse to include essentially any form of simple assault in order to facilitate action by authorities. The current legislative efforts to implement the recommendations of Pennsylvania’s Task Force On Child Protection have also lead to stronger protections against false reporting and other technical issues.

Certainly, these steps and other legislative reforms will make it easier to address child abuse. That said, Corbett and our Assemblymen must ensure their revisions to existing laws are coupled with enhancements to our overall child welfare system. As such, they need to focus on how our government and communities address child abuse. In other words, they must be more proactive. The real problem is that child abuse is often either thoroughly ignored or allowed to reach a point where caregivers must be punished criminally and child victims are traumatized.

Meanwhile, there are also cases where the Commonwealth overreacts to incidences where child abuse is not in play, thus destroying a struggling or otherwise healthy family. Accordingly, authorities need broader options for intervention to prevent child abuse and to address varying degrees of child abuse. Child abuse occurs for a myriad of reasons, including a caregiver’s history of being abused, extreme stress on a caregiver, and an inability of caregivers to cope with the burden of child rearing.

Unfortunately, Corbett is one political leader who has been guilty of stripping away public welfare funding, in spite of the failure of Pennsylvania’s economy to provide enough living wage jobs, thus he has helped create a situation where the potential for neglect and abuse is increased. He has also resisted the expansion of Medicaid and other social welfare programs, so he is unlikely to support programs that might provide counseling and a meaningful support network for potential child abusers and children at the near-abused stage.

Clearly, life threatening and extreme cases of child abuse demand immediate removal of children from their homes, but we also need a strong support structure that offers distressed caregivers training and advice on how to cope with given situations as well as material support when appropriate. Meanwhile, the herculean task of reforming our often-negligent social services system and our sometimes-abusive foster care system must be undertaken. Legislation redefining child abuse and offering minor tweets to current laws may help bolster Tom Corbett’s political career and give authorities greater room to act, but they are not enough to end child abuse in Pennsylvania.

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