Governor Jay Nixon will sign into law on Tuesday legislation meant to offer more protections to children from sexual abuse and tragic ends.
One provision in House Bill 505 changes the way in which a person required to report instances of child abuse may make that report.
Emily Van Schenkhof is the Deputy Director of the advocacy group Missouri Kids First. She says the Jerry Sandusky case helped spawn that bill.
“What we saw happen at Penn State was that someone observed child sexual abuse, someone saw it happening, and didn’t quite know what to do and reported that to a supervisor who reported that to a supervisor and it was never reported to the people whose job it is to investigate such things.”
Van Schenkhof says her organization has found that such cases are not limited to Penn State or athletic programs, and has heard of similar situations all around Missouri.
The bill requires that reports of suspected abuse be made to the Children’s Division within the Social Services Department.
“We want people who have expertise in talking to children and who have expertise in investigating child abuse to be able to look at these cases and to be able to investigate whether abuse is occurring. Right now I think we’ve got a lot of people who are making that call themselves and it’s not really a call for your average teacher or your average minister.”
That change was one of the proposals suggested by the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, created by a 2011 law and intended to sunset at the end of last year. Instead, the legislation to be signed by the Governor makes that body a permanent entity.
Van Schenkhof is a staff member for the Task Force, the members of which she says were hoping to keep working.
“The Task Force agree that they wanted to continue to do the work and that they wanted to continue to meet. I think we all understood that the process of really actually preventing child sexual abuse is a long-term process that can not be accomplished in a year or two years.”
Senate Bill 256 also extends from 5 to 45 days after birth the period under which a parent can drop off an infant at a law enforcement of medical facility or fire station without fear of prosecution, under Missouri’s so-named “Safe Haven Act.”
“Parents in crisis … it is far better for them to abandon an infant than it is for them to hurt the child.”
Governor Nixon will sign those bills in a visit to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Tuesday morning.