One of the hardest issues we tackle as a society is how to best protect children.
Sometimes, it seems like with each passing year, there are more and more ways for children to be harmed.
In the last couple of years, most Americans were shocked as the child sex abuse scandal unfolded at Penn State University. Legislatures around the country began to ask if their state laws would protect children from this type of abuse. Wisconsin is no different.
In addition to new laws passed last session, the legislature convened a special committee to look at the child abuse and neglect statutes.
The Joint Legislative Council Special Committee on Reporting of Child Abuse and Child Neglect completed its work in January and submitted legislation for introduction that contains a number of provisions aimed at uncovering child abuse and neglect.
The committee was charged with two tasks. First, to reorganize the section of statutes pertaining to child abuse and neglect to make the statutes more logical, modernize language and resolve ambiguities in the statutes.
The second part of their charge was to recommend changes to current law regarding who is required to report suspected child abuse and neglect and to study the reporting of child abuse and neglect at institutions of higher education.
As we learn more about how our brains develop, we understand more and more that the damage done to children can impact them throughout their entire lives.
We have learned that people don’t always just “get over” abuse they suffered as children.
Following the Penn State scandal, the Wisconsin legislature was passed a new law to require all school employees to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
By expanding the number of people required to report suspected abuse, we are creating a larger web of people who might be able to help an abused child.
An executive order signed by the governor extended these reporting requirements to University of Wisconsin System employees, professors and coaches.
In addition to those required under the 2011 law, there are a number of other people who are required to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect.
These include doctors, nurses, dentists and police officers, among others.
One of the recommendations of the study committee is to include probation and parole agents in the list of professionals who are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
This could prove particularly helpful when dealing with youthful offenders.
The committee also recommends requiring school volunteers and contractors who work directly with children for at least 40 hours a year to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Schools would be required to provide training to parent volunteers on recognizing abuse and neglect in children.
On one hand, this requirement makes sense; these volunteers are around students enough that they might notice something is wrong in a child’s life.
On the other hand, some concerns were raised that this requirement would discourage parents and others from volunteering in schools because they would be required to undergo training provided by the school district and would be difficult for school districts to administer.
In an effort to address the potential for instances of child abuse and neglect to surface in institutions of higher education, those working, volunteering or contracting with a college or university would be required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Although institutions of higher education primarily serve adults, there are a number of instances throughout the year when minors are on campus, such as special camps.
Since many of the professionals who are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect are ones for which a state license is required, the committee recommends requiring that license applicants complete a course designed by the Department of Children and Families explaining their reporting responsibilities.
The Joint Legislative Council will introduce these recommendations as a bill this session.
At that point, the bill will go through the normal legislative process to become law.