The House of Representatives today voted unanimously to approve legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks), which would require courts in custody proceedings to consider whether a child has been identified as a victim of child abuse by a person seeking custody or member of that person’s household.
The bill, House Bill 414, was drafted by O’Neill based on the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection that was created by the General Assembly to conduct a comprehensive review of the laws and procedures relating to the health and safety of children.
“The task force cited the need for a court in a custody matter to have information regarding a child involved with respect to whether he or she has been identified as a victim of child abuse and whether the person seeking custody had been identified as a perpetrator of child abuse,” said O’Neill. “Better information-sharing procedures will help lead to better protection of our children.”
Specifically, House Bill 414 fulfills the task force recommendations by:
- Requiring that the court be provided with information from DPW regarding whether the child has been identified as a victim of abuse and whether a parent has been identified as the perpetrator of that abuse, under the Child Protective Services Law.
- Requiring that the court be provided with information from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) regarding the type of services made available to the family under the Child Protective Services Law.
- Requiring that a court consider whether there is an indicated or founded report of child abuse by a party or a member of the party’s household when determining the best interests of the child. Currently, there are 16 factors for the courts to weigh when determining the best interests of the child. If approved, this would be an additional factor.
“Ultimately, my bill is about ensuring courts and judges have access to information related to records of child abuse and neglect, so that they can truly act in the best interest of the child when awarding custody and make a decision that would prevent any further harm to a child,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill’s bill is one of seven bills drafted in response to the task force report. House Bill 414 now heads to the Senate for consideration.