Saturday, July 17, 2010

Child-abuser listing unchanged for now

Child-abuser listing unchanged for now

By JENNIFER JACOBS • • July 17, 2010 Des Moines Register

Leaving children unsupervised can have fatal consequences, so it would be wrong to strip the names of all Iowa adults accused of abusing children in such a way from the state's child abuse registry, several abuse prevention advocates say.

Some employers who work with children use the registry to check whether employees or applicants have an abuse history.

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court granted the state's Department of Human Services' request to delay implementation of a July 9 ruling that could force DHS to remove about 28,000 names from the registry — a prospect that alarms abuse prevention experts.

DHS to ask for rehearing
The delay is for only about two weeks. DHS officials now intend to ask the court for a rehearing.

If that doesn't happen, the names of Iowans who abused children by leaving them without supervision or under poor supervision could be removed from the registry, state officials said.

It takes more than losing a child at the mall or a parent cooking in the kitchen while a child is playing in the yard for DHS to place someone on the child abuse registry for failure to supervise, said Jerry Foxhoven, executive director of the Drake Legal Clinic.

It takes a severe situation, such as exposure of the child to dangerous individuals, serious drug involvement by the parent resulting in his or her inability to properly supervise care of the child, regularly exposing the child to domestic abusers, or cases where severe physical or sexual abuse occurred while in the care of the person who had a duty to supervise and protect the child, he said.

Steve Scott, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, cited as an example the case of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids. Her mother, Trena Gage, dated a man who sexually assaulted Jetseta for two years, and then associated with the man's brother, who eventually abducted, raped and killed Jetseta in 2005.

In another case, 1-year-old Brooklin Petithory drowned in a bathtub while her father fell into a meth-induced sleep in 2003, Scott said.

Last year, 6-year-old Jordan Turner drowned in a hotel pool when his mother left him to make a phone call from the hotel lobby.

"The registry is a critical tool in protecting children from being placed in unsafe care, and the (court's) decision will cripple its effectiveness and reliability," Scott said.

Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, said he will push in the Legislature for changes to clear up potential problems stemming from the court's decision.

"Among its potential consequences, it may well mean that child day care centers and medical facilities again unknowingly begin hiring people who pose a danger to children," Kreiman said.

Improper listings are said to be fewer
Foxhoven acknowledged that some people who committed less serious abuse are on the child abuse registry but should not be.

State lawmakers in 1997 took steps to address improper inclusion, Foxhoven said. As a result, if DHS child abuse investigators decide the abuse was minor, isolated and unlikely to occur again, the abuser's name will not be placed on the registry.

"Iowa is doing much better" in ensuring people are not improperly placed on the registry, Foxhoven said. "Even the most ardent parent advocates probably would not argue that over half of everyone on the registry doesn't belong there."

The Iowa Supreme Court's decision in Jane Doe v. Iowa Department of Human Services could mean that about 28,000 of the 53,000 names on the registry would be removed.

The justices ruled July 9 that the Legislature did not authorize the Department of Human Services to place an abuser's name on the registry for failing to provide proper supervision of a child. The court ordered one mother's name removed. State officials worry the ruling will have broader effects.

Scott said he believes the court misinterpreted the legislation that it examined for the case. He helped draft the 1997 law, along with law enforcement and Youth Law Center officials.

"There was absolutely no consideration of exempting 'failure to supervise' cases from the registry," Scott said. "Reading such an intention into the legislation is misguided."

Registry is not public
Unlike Iowa's sex abuse registry, which is public and maintained by the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Human Services' child abuse registry is not open to the public. Public access is barred in an effort to ease concerns about due process and fairness for people on the registry.

Names are included if DHS investigators conclude a person committed "founded" abuse in the past 10 years, based on a preponderance of evidence. That is a lower threshold than what is required in criminal court.

Certain employers can ask the state to run a name through the database - if the job applicant or employee gives permission to do so, Munns said. DHS answers "yes" or "no" as to whether the person's name is on the registry.

Background checks are mandatory at some workplaces. If a job applicant refuses to allow the search, the person is not hired.

The Department of Inspections and Appeals allows Iowans who believe they should not be on the registry to appeal, and hundreds do, said Roger Munns, a DHS spokesman.

"Most findings of abuse are upheld," Munns said.

Another look from Legislature?
If the Iowa Supreme Court does not change its decision in this case, it would be appropriate for the Legislature to take a fresh look when it convenes in January at who should and should not be on the registry, Foxhoven said.

For example, some people who commit acts that the public would think should result in a registry listing actually are not listed, such as a person who severely physically abuses a child, but is not in a caretaker role, Foxhoven said.

Kreiman, chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, said he hopes DHS finds a way to limit the scope of the ruling.

"In the meantime, I believe other legislators will join me in pushing for changes in our child abuse registry law to end the uncertainty and potential problems caused by the court's decision," he said.

Foxhoven said: "The concern, and a justified one at that, is what will happen until those changes are made when a substantial portion of the child abuse registry is cleared. How can children continue to be protected from known abusers until the necessary statutory changes are made?"

1 comment:

Michael with tears said...

I was beaten in front of the class and abused at st pius 10, cedar rapids ,as a altar boy,they still ignore any phone calls or letters,that makes it hard on my mind,last time I called, they said forget it,that was a long time ago!