Legislation on child abuse reporting draws concerns from Dane County social workers
NOT IN MY WORLD!!!! believes every call of Child Maltreatment should be reported to Law Enforcement first, and all investigations be made by Law Enforcement only.
Only with Law Enforcement involved in every case will we begin to see an end of the corruption within CPS.
Wisconsin legislation that would change how child abuse and neglect cases are handled is drawing sharp disagreement between Dane County prosecutors, law enforcement officials and social services providers about what is best for children.
Introduced by Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, in October, and garnering bipartisan support since, the package of bills would clarify the definition of child neglect, designate a specific crime of repeated acts of neglect or physical abuse of the same child and require social services agencies to report all allegations of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement, among other components.
Legislators, prosecutors and law enforcement officials pushing for the changes say they do not currently have enough tools to charge adults for certain situations of child neglect or abuse, including cases where children are exposed to the dealing or manufacturing of illegal narcotics.
Social services providers conversely argue the changes — particularly requirements involving reports to law enforcement — could have a chilling effect on cases reported, lead to increased trauma for families and create an unfunded burden on law enforcement.
“We have a wonderful system in Dane County by which we protect kids, but we try to keep the situation from re-traumatizing kids and families,” said Dane County Human Services director Lynn Green, who was a social worker in Child Protective Services early in her career. “A lot of what we try to do is reach out, help people make the parenting changes they need to make, educate them while we keep the kids safe.”
Currently, there is a memorandum of understanding in place between Dane County Human Services and county law enforcement agencies that lays out which cases will be reported to law enforcement. In addition to cases of sexual abuse, which providers are required to report under state law, the agreement includes reporting cases of physical abuse, emotional abuse and threat of harm.
Right now, Green said, about 40 percent of cases the department receives get referred to law enforcement and they work together on the case.
“If there is a feeling that some of the cases that should go aren’t going, we can amend that,” said Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “But to send all cases to law enforcement I’m concerned will have an unintended consequence.”
Some reporters call the county when they feel there’s a family in need. They are not mandated to report and can remain anonymous. If law enforcement gets involved, Green said, their name will have to go on a police report. She said callers may also hesitate to report concerns if they know a law enforcement official will knock on the door.
“We’re concerned it’s actually going to stem the number of calls we get and our possibility of intervening with families and being able to serve them,” Green said.
Green said they are also concerned about the trauma inflicted when law enforcement gets involved with families — especially of color and in high-risk neighborhoods.
In Dane County, a black parent is at least seven times more likely to be referred to Child Protective Services than a white parent, raising concerns about the legislation disproportionately affecting communities of color.
“Many of the parents that come into the Child Protective Services system have themselves been impacted by trauma in their own childhoods, and that trauma has affected their functioning, their brain development, to the point where when they’re confronted with authority or people trying to impose rules on them, they can come across as sounding very oppositional,” said Dane County Child Protective Services manager Julie Ahnen. “The idea that we’re going to change their behavior by increasing their involvement in the criminal justice system is just backward.”
The Dane County Board Executive Committee passed a resolution on a voice vote Thursday evening opposing the state legislation with those concerns in mind, as well as the concern that it will create additional case burden on law enforcement agencies without funding it.
Unlike this legislation, a series of child protection reforms in Minnesota recently signed into law also allocated $52 million to hire more workers and expand services for abused children.
“I recognize that some of these changes might be difficult to implement, but I don’t want to see cases of child neglect continue to go to unreported or unaddressed in our community,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, who introduced similar legislation last session and is a sponsor of this package.
Shilling said she doesn’t want there to be an unintended consequence or chilling effect but wants prosecutors to be able to address issues like child exposure to the dealing or manufacturing of illegal narcotics.
“So how do we make sure the process and definitions are something that, again, help prosecutors have the tools they need to properly charge adults with the situation that innocent children are placed in,” Shilling said.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has testified at hearings in support of the legislation. He did not respond to a request for comment. Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney declined a request for comment. The Madison Police Department emailed a statement calling the actions of the bill’s sponsors “laudable” in working to protect children but also acknowledging the concerns of social workers.
The Association of State Prosecutors, the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association all have registered in support of the bill on required reporting.
Dane County, the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and the Wisconsin Association of Family and Children’s Agencies all oppose it.
Multiple Dane County legislators who initially signed on as cosponsors for the legislation have since withdrawn their support for the bill requiring reporting to law enforcement, including Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, and Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison.