A state House committee will hear legislation on Tuesday dealing with child abuse and neglect issues.
HB 713 would allow the Children’s Division to investigate cases in which a child younger than 14 years of age has allegedly committed sexual abuse against another child. A similar bill is already moving through the Senate.
State Representative Bill Lant filed the bill and said under current law the Division cannot investigate or provide services to families in many of these difficult situations.
“Unless a person has the care, custody, and control, the Children’s Division doesn’t get involved at all,” said Lant. “If a child is under 14, law enforcement rarely gets involved, so those children basically get off free.”
Lant said his bill would give the Children’s Division the authority to provide family assessment.
“If there isn’t any intervention with a child that has a problem sexual behavior, they grow up to be adults with problem sexual behaviors,” said Lant. “If we can get them in the system at that point, we’ve got a chance of turning that behavior around.”
Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof agrees.
“Most sexual offenders begin doing this type of behavior very early on,” said Schenkhof. “We don’t really address it when they’re young and changeable. We try to address it when they’re 25, when they’re 30, when those behavior patterns are deeply ingrained.”
Van Schenkhof said studies show if one intervenes early with kids who have problem sexual behaviors, those kids are less likely to become an adult sexual offender. Van Schenkhof believes the young people who commit sex offenses against other children have tremendous rehabilitative potential. Van Schenkhof said this is a smart bill that allows a case worker to go out to a home and begin looking at what happened in these cases and offering services to the family.
“This is not normal child behavior, it’s not normal to do this other children,” said van Schenkhof. “Often times it means that you have either experienced abuse of some kind or something else in your environment is very wrong.”
HB 475 would help the Children’s Division keep track of people convicted of child abuse or neglect crimes. Lant’s bill would require courts to send certified copies of child abuse or neglect judgments to the Children’s Division so that it can list the individual as a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect in its central registry. Lant said some courts are not providing this information to the Children’s Division.
“Apparently there’s been instances where this hasn’t gotten done and if we got judges handing down decisions that a person is guilty, we want to get that on the registry,” said Lant.
Van Schenkhof said the Child Abuse and Neglect Registry is not available to the general public.
“It is available to folks who are trying to run background checks on individuals who are working with children or individuals who work with other vulnerable populations,” said van Schenkhof.
Van Schenkhof said this is information the Children’s Division must have to make the registry the tool it’s designed to be.