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New state law requires school coaches to report suspected abuse

School coaches will be required to report suspected child abuse under a new state law drafted in the wake of the 2011 Penn State sex abuse scandal.

This month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law legislation sponsored by Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) and state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) that adds youth sport coaches to the list of more than 40 professionals mandated by law to report alleged child abuse to state child protective services officials.

"Coaches are in a unique position of trust with their players, and this law will ensure that if a child confides in their coach or the coach observes signs of abuse, they will report it to the authorities," Paulin said.

She first introduced a version of the bill in 2012 following the outcry over Penn State University's handling of reports that assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused boys enrolled in a program for at-risk youth.

Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant and later assistant coach for the school, reportedly witnessed Sandusky abusing a child in a campus locker room and told school officials, who did not notify authorities. In 2012, Sandusky, 70, was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to life in prison.

While child advocates have lauded the measure for providing another means for abuse victims to be identified, some argue the measure does not go far enough, because it does not require coaches to report suspected abuse inflicted by other coaches or educators.

Under state law, "mandated reporters" -- including teachers, physicians and guidance counselors -- are only required to report suspected abuse believed to be at the hands of guardians such as parents and grandparents.

"Even though it's good to expand the number of people responsible for reporting child abuse, this law unfortunately does nothing to address the issue of when a child is being harmed outside of the home," said Anthony Zenkus, education coordinator for the Bethpage-based Safe Center LI, which provides counseling to abuse victims.

"What we need is a truly coordinated effort that will address these gaps in the law, actually resulting in reducing abuse and holding abusers accountable," Zenkus said.

Paulin said while the law does not specifically require coaches to report other coaches, it will require coaches to receive two hours of training on spotting signs of abuse, and hopefully prompt them to forward any concerns to the authorities.

"The hope is, because they're trained on what is abuse, they're going to have a better understanding of what is right or wrong and be more inclined to take action," Paulin said.

Cuomo, in a statement, called the measure "another step forward in New York's fight against child abuse."

In 2012, Nassau handled 6,344 reports of suspected child abuse and Suffolk handled 9,692, according to the most recent state figures available.

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