Governor Eric Greitens, R, has signed into law a bill with several parts that aim to better protect children, including ones who have been abused or trafficked. Children’s advocate Emily van Schenkhof calls Senate Bill 160 the best piece of legislation to come out of this year’s regular legislative session.
“We came together as the General Assembly, outside advocates, [and] the governor’s office to pass some really important legislation,” says van Schenkhof. “It really was, I think, an example of how when we prioritize children we really can come together to make good policy decisions and makes sure we get things across the finish line that make our state safer for children.”
One of the most important pieces of the measure, van Schenkhof says, prevents the destruction of about 11,000 records involving cases of abused children whose perpetrator could not be identified. An appeals court ruling put those records in jeopardy.
“That was an extremely time-sensitive piece of the bill,” says van Schenkhof. “Children’s safety could have been at risk if we didn’t have this information in our system.”
State Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, carried the House bill. She says retaining those records allows investigators to detect patterns in abuse or neglect cases.
“The first time that, perhaps, it’s reported or it becomes known to the department, the child may be only three months old and it’s just been identified that abuse has taken place. If we’re not able to retain those records, then let’s say they’re two years old and there’s abuse and we’re not able to see that there’s a pattern in that child’s life of who they’re with that is resulting in harm to the child,” says Franklin.
Another key provision changes the definition of child abuse and neglect to include trafficking.
“In trafficking cases often times that caretaking role, or that care, custody, and control piece is missing, and so Children’s Division can’t provide the sort of protective interventions that are necessary,” says van Schenkhof.
The bill also includes establishing in law the treatment and rights of Missouri’s foster children. It allows children entering foster care to be placed with people who are not related to, but have a close relationship with, the child or the child’s family.
A series of new initiatives to fight human trafficking are underway in Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office. They will use the state’s consumer protection laws to combat trafficking. Hawley says this means anyone who is using a business as a front for human trafficking will face consequences. Other initiatives include a new Anti-Trafficking Unit in the Attorney General’s Office and the creation of a statewide Human Trafficking Task Force.
The regulations are the first of its kind in the nation.