by Deborah Yetter , @d_yetter –
Lori Brent knew something was seriously wrong with her infant son from his piercing wail.
“His cry was totally different,” she said. “It was a cry I’d never heard before.”
But Brent was stunned when emergency room doctors told her that the 4-month-old had a broken arm, a broken leg and a fracture from a previous injury. In what she called “a mother’s worst nightmare,” she learned a babysitter was suspected of inflicting the injuries.
Now, eight years later, the Henry County mother is speaking out for Senate Bill 236, a far-reaching measure to give parents, school systems and others who run youth programs access to confidential information about whether someone has committed child abuse or neglect, as found by state social service officials.
Besides allowing parents access to such information — which doesn’t show up on a background check — the bill would require public schools, for the first time, to check when people seek employment and deny a job to anyone listed on the confidential registry as having committed child abuse or neglect.
Under SB 236, the individual seeking the job would request the information from the state and provide it to the employer.
People are listed on the registry maintained by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services once they have exhausted the right to appeal.
State social service officials last year substantiated findings of child abuse or neglect in about 15,000 cases, a number than has risen steadily in recent years.
The Courier-Journal reported in January that of the hundreds of people who file such appeals each year, more than half are successful in overturning adverse findings. Appeals range from several hundred to nearly 1,000 a year.
But people who don’t appeal or lose the appeal are listed on the registry and would be the subject to the bill’s provisions.
The measure passed the Senate unanimously and could come up for a final vote in the House this week. It would significantly expand use of the registry, which is now accessible only in hiring for a few occupations such as day care workers, foster parents or employees at private centers for abused or neglected children.
Brent, testifying last week, urged lawmakers to pass the bill in hopes it would better protect children from situations most parents find unimaginable.
“Just because you’re happily married, have a college education, go to church and eat family meals together does not protect you from child abuse,” said Brent, who is working with the Kosair Charities Face It campaign launched in 2012 to fight child mistreatment. “It can happen to anyone.”
Brent said her son, now 8, has recovered from what the doctors described as “spiral,” or twisting fractures, and is doing well. The babysitter accused of injuring him pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the case, she said.
But the case made her determined to try to help others and that’s why she has appeared twice in Frankfort to tell her story and seek support for the bill, Brent said.
No opposition has been voiced publicly to the measure, which passed the Senate on a unanimous vote this month. The bill was approved unanimously last week by the House Health and Family Services Committee.
Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Burlington Republican and committee chairwoman, said she expects it will be passed into law this week by the House after much effort from supporters, including Kentucky Youth Advocates.
“There’s been a lot of work to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children, from neglect and abuse,” Wuchner said.
The bill would allow parents to ask an individual seeking employment as a babysitter or nanny to obtain a letter from Health and Family Services, either verifying the individual has no current finding of abuse or neglect or stating the person is listed on the registry. The letter would go to the individual who sought it, but the parent could ask to see it.
But the broader impact could be on Kentucky public schools, which would be required to seek proof from applicants for teaching or any other school jobs that they are not listed on the registry. Those applicants would be required to seek a letter from the state and present it to the school system.
While public school employees are subject to criminal background checks, the proposed legislation would add a level of scrutiny that previously had not been required.
The bill would make such checks voluntary for private schools, but the checks would apply to workers or volunteers at youth camps that receive public funds.
Applicants for teaching or other school jobs, such as office, maintenance or cafeteria work, would be denied employment based on such a finding. The proposed law also would require school employees to report to school officials any state findings of child abuse or neglect involving them and says no public school district shall employ individuals with such findings.
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said it offers “long overdue protection for children,” especially in schools.
“Schools currently don’t know about cases of abuse or neglect when a case isn’t prosecuted criminally,” she said in presenting the bill.
Many cases of child abuse or neglect, including sexual abuse, may be substantiated by state social service workers but not prosecuted as a criminal offense, particularly in cases where children are unable or unwilling to testify, said Dr. Christina Howard, a forensic pediatrician at the University of Kentucky who testified on behalf of the bill.
“We currently have no idea how many people like this are involved in our school system,” she said.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at 502-582-4228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.