A child advocacy group is calling for changes to child abuse law in Pennsylvania.
Cathleen Palm, founder of The Center for Children’s Justice in Jefferson Township is speaking out after a 2-year-old girl in Berks County died of pneumonia.
Authorities say the girl’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, did not seek medical attention when the girl became sick because their religious beliefs forbids any medical intervention.
According to court documents, the parents told investigators the girl’s death was God’s will.
The Fosters are charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children.
Palm says drawing the line between religion and parenting is difficult.
“I think we all want parents to be able to parent their children, we want people to be able to subscribe to their religious beliefs,” Palm told 69 News. “But we also have to ask ourselves, have we reached a point that it’s unreasonable for a child to die of something as preventable and as treatable as pneumonia?”
Palm explains that Pennsylvania child abuse laws allow for exclusions from needed medical and surgical care is based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” of the parents or guardians unless the child dies. She says that exclusion doesn’t fully protect children.
“This is a pretty tricky situation,” she added. “Because again these parents were parenting, they were parenting from a place of faith. That said, hopefully, all of our faiths will help us also recognize and balancing act between turning to God and turning to medical care when our children need it.”
The current laws also put pressure on “mandated reporters” such as teachers and members of the clergy and it allows for government agencies to step in.
“There is enough tools in our law to be able to have Children and Youth [Services] go out, check up on the children, potentially seek court intervention if it appears as though the lives of the other kids are jeopardized by the parents not getting medical care for them,” Palm said.
On Wednesday, John Adams, Berks County District Attorney told reporters in a news conference the couple is out on bail and they are at home with their six other children.
Adams confirmed there is a safety plan in place for the couple’s children and they are being monitored by Children and Youth Services.