Pennsylvania should find a way to responsibly, efficiently and effectively manage unfounded child abuse allegations in the wake of research from a group formed to offer recommendations regarding child safety.

Researchers with Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Network — formed after the Jerry Sandusky scandal — say the state officials should “rethink” a law requiring the destruction of records in some abuse allegations. A Pennsylvania law, created in 2018, does allow counties to begin keeping records of such “unfounded allegations, to help analyze the data to better recognize potential abuse.” The law does not require the counties to keep the records and, more importantly, it doesn’t allow counties to share that information with the state or other counties.

The state should have a confidential, sharable and accessible database of this information, saved over a specific time frame — perhaps three years — to allow for a review to see if new allegations are similar to previous cases. There would also need to be a set of uniform rules put into place in how to handle expungement.

The Department of Human Services supports the idea of updating state law to allow abuse allegation records to be saved, said Erin James, a Human Services spokeswoman. She also noted keeping records of unfounded abuse allegations won’t lead to people being flagged when they seek a clearance to work or volunteer around children.

“Prior abuse reports, regardless of substantiation, are a strong indicator of risk of future abuse,” James said. “Counties should be aware of all prior incidents, including unfounded or invalid reports, when investigating a new report.”

Keeping these records over the course of several years is not a viewpoint The Daily Item comes to lightly. We understand the slippery slope here. First, the allegations we are talking about have been unsubstantiated or unconfirmed. Second, there is always the risk of a false accusation popping back up. For that reason, a database should be paired with increased penalties for false accusations.

Anything stakeholders can do to protect Pennsylvania’s children is certainly worth a serious look. A decision does not need to be rushed. It needs to be appropriately managed to get this right the first time, to protect children and those who have had false accusations thrown at them.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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