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Judge allows Jerry Sandusky visits with grandkids, with supervision (+video)

Child protection advocates express concern after a Pennsylvania judges allows former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky to see and correspond with his grandchildren, albeit in the presence of a parent. 

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“Let’s err on the side of caution for both Mr. Sandusky and the kids, so no false accusations are made. That seems to be the logical step right now,” he says.

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According to the ruling Monday, Sandusky will be allowed to host his grandchildren at his house as well as talk with them on the phone, and via email, text, and Skype. The judge stipulated that a parent must be in attendance at all times.

“It might be argued that, given the nature of the charges filed against [Sandusky], contact with children in general should be prohibited out of an abundance of caution to protect the public safety. However, the request … is accompanied by the assurance that the parents will supervise any personal or electronic contact,” Cleland wrote. The judge added that prosecutors “presented no evidence” that the grandchildren’s parents “are not capable of assuring the safety of their children.”

A second judge will rule on Sandusky’s access to three of his 11 grandchildren, which involves a custody dispute between Michael Sandusky, his son, and Jill Thomas, his former daughter-in-law, who objects to their children having any contact with the elder Sandusky.

The Sandusky case is forcing Pennsylvania lawmakers to examine the state’s child abuse laws, most of which have not been updated in over 40 years. For example, state law defines child abuse only if it involves a perpetrator who is a family member or caregiver, such as a teacher or coach. Which means that, in some instances, what might be defined as child abuse in one state could be categorized as sexual assault in Pennsylvania.

State law also does not require training for how to report abuse, which Kutulakis says is needed to prevent judges from being swayed by emotional arguments the defense may make such as how Sandusky misses his family. On Friday his legal team provided the judge letters and drawings made by his grandchildren.

However Victor Vieth, director of the National Child Protection Training Center in Winona, Minn., says nothing in Friday’s hearing “indicated Sandusky is not at risk of harming these children.”

“Most people who are violated, they love their perpetrator…. That is partly why it’s hard for kids to make a disclosure” that they are abused, Vieth says. “The fact you have letters saying ‘I love grandpa’ – all of that is irrelevant to the question. The bottom line is what procedures or mechanisms are in place to protect children he may have contact with?”

Vieth says law, education and medical students should be required to take semester-long courses on identifying and how to respond to child abuse and that the same training should be mandated for judges assigned to child protection cases.

“We’re assuming if you have a law degree, that qualifies you to serve in a child abuse case in any capacity and that’s just not true,” he says. “You also need some training on child abuse and child development, otherwise, how can you rule on how restrictive the [bond] order [of defendants like Sandusky] should be?”

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