A children’s advocacy group and at least one state lawmaker say the 2014 legislative session has been a positive one for fighting child abuse, but they expect more work in the interim.
Awaiting action by Governor Jay Nixon (D) is a bill that would allow more time for the state Children’s Division to investigate reports of child abuse and allow for a review of differences in investigation processes. The legislature’s proposed budget also keeps Nixon’s proposal for additional money for that division to improve its efficiency and results.
Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof says it was a good legislative session.
“When you identify any problem, sometimes you’ve just gotta do something,” says van Schenkhof. “You’ve got to try to make some changes and we’re going to be constantly adjusting those changes and asking for more and doing better, so this is really just the first step.”
The Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect will hold a hearing tomorrow in the State Capitol. Its vice-chairman, Representative Bill Lant (R-Pineville), expects hearings this summer to look at the Division’s career ladder for investigators, which was the target of a proposed 2.2-million dollar budget increase.
“What we’re wanting to look at is to see whether the money is going where it’s needed the most,” says Lant. “Or if we need additional allocations.”
Lant also anticipates the committee to spend time considering how investigators are trained, which was also a target for additional money in the proposed budget. Van Schenkhof says there are many questions there.
“What additional training do they need? What does high-quality training look like?” says van Schenkhof, who hopes for a collaborative discussion including state lawmakers, staff from the Children’s Division and others who deal with child abuse issues as a training program is designed.
Two years have expired among the six that were allotted to that joint committee. When Lant talks about the work that is yet to come, it is clear he expects to need more than the remaining four years.
“This needs to be a standing committee,” says Lant. “As far as oversight and investigation we need to complete as much as we can by the end of this next four years.”