We'd like to think any adult who suspects child abuse would immediately report it to authorities.

Sadly, we know, that's not always the case.

Part of the problem has been Pennsylvania's vague mandatory child-abuse reporting law, which applied specifically to a certain a group of professions that work with children, but left out others that also regularly required contact with youths.

It also wasn't clear to whom a report had to be made.

Some who did fall under the law apparently felt their duty was done by reporting suspicions to supervisors rather than to investigators.

That might be understandable, but in reality they had no idea if the supervisors would follow through with their responsibility.

For instance, prosecutors say three top Penn State administrators failed to report allegations made against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky later was convicted of multiple child sex abuse charges and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

The administrators, including former Penn State president Graham Spanier, allegedly were told of a 2001 allegation against the coach but decided it would be more "humane" not to notify police. At least four boys were abused after that decision, according to the state attorney general.

The three are awaiting trial for, among other things, failing to report suspected child abuse.


Lawmakers redoubled their efforts to revamp Pennsylvania's child abuse laws in the wake of the Sandusky case. In 2012, they created the Task Force on Child Protection, a panel of experts whose recommendations led to new legislation this year.

Gov. Tom Corbett this week signed into law the most recent package – four pieces of legislation that expand the definition of mandatory reporters, streamline the reporting process, increase penalties for mandatory reporters who fail to do so and provide protections from employment discrimination for filing a report in good faith.

A key provision requires anyone who suspects abuse to report "out" to the Department of Public Welfare rather than "up" to a superior.

Deb Harrison, executive director of the York County Children's Advocacy Center, applauded the new laws, which take effect Dec. 31, and said they should eliminate the confusion that has been putting children at risk.

"Schools experience it over and over again. ... They just feel this tremendous pressure to not falsely accuse someone," she said. "For me, that's ultimately making the decision that an adult is more worth protecting than a child."

The pressure now is on them, and anyone else who comes into contact with children, to do the right thing when they suspect abuse.

And the new laws make that clearer than ever.