Working to Protect Missouri’s Future
As the calendar turns from March to April, this time of year often marks the start of spring. However, I believe April also represents an opportunity to shine a light on the dangers of child abuse and neglect occurring in our society. Since 1983, April has been designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month. In 2017, 5,141 Missouri children were involved in claims of abuse or neglect. Even worse, 32 Missouri children died as a result of abuse or neglect during the same year. Just one child dying from abuse and neglect is too many, and as a result, my colleagues and I are dedicated to passing meaningful legislation intended to stop child abuse and neglect in Missouri.
Senate Bill 850 makes several changes to state law regarding records involving children. The legislation makes it easier for the state’s Children’s Division and other state agencies to share information regarding child abuse or neglect investigations. The legislation also includes language allowing for the sharing of information between states. Many of the reforms in SB 850 are a result of the death of Adrian Jones, a Kansas boy who was killed by his father and stepmother in 2015. The family moved between Kansas and Missouri, and many believe his death could have been prevented if the states could have shared information regarding his abuse. In addition, the legislation requires the Children’s Division to retain all information regarding a child abuse investigation for 10 years, even if there is insufficient evidence of abuse or neglect. The legislation also requires the division to retain all investigation records involving a missing child alleged to have been abused or neglected for 18 years. These common-sense reforms provide the state with the tools needed to expose and prosecute individuals who abuse our children.
Senate Bill 890 aims to provide a path for law enforcement, state officials and prosecuting attorneys to investigate and examine children who display signs of abuse and neglect when permission cannot be received from their parents or guardians to conduct the exam. Too often, the abuser is a family member and permission for an exam is not given because it could incriminate them or a fellow family member. This legislation establishes procedures granting the state’s Children’s Division, juvenile officers or prosecuting attorneys the ability to petition the court for an order forcing parents, guardians or persons with custody and control of a child who is the subject of a child abuse or neglect investigation to present the child to a qualified health care provider for a sexual assault forensic exam, physical abuse exam or an interview at a child assessment center. This information is vital to protecting our children, and we must do everything we can to keep abusers and their families from standing in the way of an investigation. Too often, these investigations go nowhere because abusers and their family members stand in the way of law enforcement and other officials from being able to uncover the truth. This legislation specifies that the court shall only grant the order if probable cause of child abuse or neglect has been determined, the interview exam is necessary to complete an investigation or collect evidence and that conducting the exam or investigation would be in the best interest of the child. Senate Bill 890 provides law enforcement and state officials with an important tool to help protect children from a family abuser.
In addition, House Bill 1350 makes several changes to state law regarding background checks for child care providers. This legislation includes language requiring all licensed child care providers and their employees to pass a nationwide criminal background check in order to operate in Missouri. Currently, only home child care providers that receive federal funds are subject to a federal background check requirement. While this legislation is necessary for Missouri to remain in compliance with the Child Care Development Block Grant Act, I believe requiring all child care workers to pass a nationwide criminal background check is vital to ensuring the safety of thousands of Missouri children who attend daycare facilities. This background check requirement would apply to anyone coming into contact with a child at a daycare facility, including all employees, contractors and volunteers. The legislation allows newly employed child care workers to begin working as soon as they apply for the background check, but they must be supervised at all times until the check is completed.
The safety of all Missouri children is a top priority for every lawmaker in the Missouri General Assembly. I believe these legislative proposals present common-sense solutions designed to protect our state’s children and equip law enforcement and state officials with the tools needed to identify and stop child abuse. I am hopeful that these proposals will reach the legislative finish line before the end of the 2018 legislative session.
As always, it is an honor and privilege to be your State Senator and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.