STATE—New legislation increasing the degree of punishment for child endangerment went into effect on Tuesday, August 29.

The bill, formerly House Bill 217, was passed unanimously by both houses in congress on June 29 this year.

Now a law, Act 12 of 2017 amends Section 4303 (b) of Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 18, Crimes and Offenses.

According to a release from Governor Tom Wolf's office, the law permits courts to take the victim's age and degree of harm done to get a more concrete image of the situation when prosecuting abusers and those who endanger children.

According to the legislation, normal offenses under Section 4303 qualify as Misdemeanors of the First Degree.

Wherein there is a course of conduct which endangers a child or some other action with “substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury” the count is upgraded to a Felony of the Third Degree, the law states.

When the serious threat of death or bodily injury is part of the course of conduct, the offense is upgraded again to a Felony of the Second Degree.

The law also allows courts to increase these penalties by one grade if the victim is under six years old at the time of the incident.

District Attorney Janine Edwards commented on the bill, “The new bill is appropriate since many times physical abuse of children is just as harmful and damaging as sexual abuse.

“This modification to the grading equates the charge with sexual abuse penalties.

“Any abuse of children is life altering and must be penalized.

“I’m pleased that our legislature unanimously saw fit to recognize the harm abuse causes.”

Act 12 also grants courts the power to order those convicted of endangering children to undergo counseling as part of their sentence.

Wayne County Human Services Executive Director Andrea Whyte stated the push toward counseling is a positive direction for the bill.

While Act 12 doesn't affect too much of the day-to-day operations of the county Children and Youth Services (CYS), Whyte said she has faith that it will be effectively employed in the courtroom.

She is hopeful the more stringent punishments will be able to deter future offenses.

“Our courts are traditionally very measured when it comes to sentencing,” said Whyte, noting the high standards and sharp degree of diligence judges take when hearing cases involving child abuse.

The executive director explained this includes not only serving punishment to the fullest extent when defendants are found guilty, but also ensuring matters are investigated thoroughly lest families be broken up unnecessarily.

Removing a child from a home is a last resort and only done when circumstances are dire, said Whyte.

She stated that CYS remains determined to put forth its best efforts to strengthen families and protect the children in the community.

How to report

Reporting potential abuses for investigation is key to keep Wayne County's children safe.

Those who suspect a child is in danger are encouraged to call the state hotline 1-800-932-0313.

Matters are abuse are investigated swiftly and thoroughly to prevent as much harm as possible, said Whyte.