The state Supreme Court has issued rulings in two cases that advocates worried could have halted some child abuse investigations and caused names to be taken off the child abuse registry.
In two cases, lower courts had ruled in favor of plaintiffs who said the state Children’s Division didn’t complete an investigation within a 90-day statutory deadline. One plaintiff argued that meant the Division lost jurisdiction in her case. Another argued that it meant her name should not be on the child abuse and neglect registry.
The Supreme Court reversed both lower court rulings and sent the cases back to those courts.
Missouri Kidsfirst Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof says the Supreme Court’s decisions favor Missouri’s children.
“It said that the lower courts had erred because they had put the interests of the alleged perpetrators above the interests of the victims of child abuse and neglect, and the statute was intended to protect the interests of children,” says van Schenkhof.
Van Schenkhof says in the ruling regarding the abuse registry, if the Supreme Court had upheld the lower court decision, anyone who had been placed on the registry after the 90-day deadline had been exceeded could have sued the state to have his or her name removed.
“Anyone who wants to be employed in working with children or other vulnerable persons, employers must check the registry to make sure that (the potential employee) is not on that,” says van Schenkhof, “So these individuals can’t work in our schools and our daycares and our nursing homes.
The Court ruled that the legislature can impose a deadline, but that courts can not impose a sanction – such as the loss of jurisdiction or removal from the registry – if the legislature doesn’t specify one.