Legislation seeks to protect children from child abuse
Legislation aiming to protect child abuse victims advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1403 amends current reporting requirements and expedites response time when a referral is made by a health or education professional. The purpose of this bill is to get the eyes on the child as soon as possible to avoid further injury from the alleged perpetrator.
The bill was prompted by the Tennessee District Attorneys Generals Conference, according to Amy Weirich, Attorney General for the 30th judicial district, who testified before the committee regarding the need for the bill. Weirich told committee members about a six-year old boy in Shelby County who died as a result of child abuse, even though the boy’s teacher reported suspected abuse to the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) twice.
“This case highlighted to us what we all know – that our children are our most valuable and vulnerable resource,” says General Weirich. “When such reports are made it seems incumbent upon the agency tasked with protecting our children to do everything possible to protect those children and possibly save a life, and when a report is made by a trained professional, DCS could and should act.”
Presently, when a child is killed or almost killed, members of the General Assembly are required to be notified. This legislation would add the District Attorney’s Office to the notification process.
The proposal also expedites the response time on referrals made to DCS from licensed health care and education professionals. Currently, when a referral is made to the child abuse hotline, it is given a response time based on the allegation’s severity. Referrals are given either priority one, which is responded to within 24 hours; priority two, which gets a response within two business days; or priority three, which warrants a response within three business days. The legislation would ensure that all referrals made by health and education professionals are given priority one so that there is a face-to-face contact with the child no later than 24 hours after allegations are made.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee before it moves to the floor for a final vote.