Concerns voiced on kid-abuse list

Removal plan said too strict

Christin Harper, an administrator at the state Department of Human Services, packs up on Wednesday after she and a colleague presented to the Senate Committee on Children and Youth an agency proposal that would allow more people to request removal from the state’s Child Maltreatment Central Registry.

Correction: If changes proposed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services are approved, those placed on the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry who have true reports of 18 specific child abuse offenses that also led to the termination of parental rights would be unable to request removal from the registry. This article incorrectly described the proposed circumstances that would keep a person from seeking removal from the registry.

Requirements are too restrictive under a proposal meant to ease the way for people accused of abuse to request removal from the state's Child Maltreatment Central Registry, some legislators said Wednesday at a Senate Committee on Children and Youth hearing.

Currently, those accused of child abuse stay on the list, in some cases permanently, even if they are found innocent in a criminal court or the charges are dropped. Additionally, some people accused of certain kinds of sexual abuse cannot request hearings to seek removal from the list.

In December, the Arkansas Department of Human Services had proposed that only those accused of abuses that led to the death of a child be disqualified from requesting removal from the registry.

After public hearings in which some participants said they were concerned that the name-removal process would be made too easy, the department joined forces with the Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Arkansas Children's Hospital and other stakeholders to revise and strengthen the proposal.

The final version of the proposal submitted to the legislative committee -- which came after months of conversations and compromise between the department and concerned stakeholders -- included numerous changes, such as the addition of about 18 offenses that, if coupled with removal of a child from the home, would prohibit those accused from requesting removal from the registry.

The committee reviewed the proposal Wednesday but took no action to hold it up.

However, Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, took issue with the changes in the proposal, saying there was no recourse for people accused of some abuses, regardless of whether they were prosecuted.

She spoke of a constituent who lost parental rights after a child was injured in what he claimed was a fall. The constituent was never prosecuted, Fite said.

"Are you saying he has no recourse at this point, even though he still insists that he was innocent of this?" Fite said.

Christin Harper, policy unit manager with the Division of Children and Family Services, told Fite and the committee that indeed the man would not be able to request removal if the type of abuse he was accused of was listed on the proposal.

The offenses include: abuse with a deadly weapon, bone fractures, brain damage/skull fracture, burns/scalding, immersion, inadequate supervision of children less than 6 years old, interfering with a child's breathing, internal injuries, malnutrition, poison/noxious substances, presence of illegal substances in a child at birth, sexual exploitation, oral sex, sexual penetration, shaking a child 3 years old or younger, striking a child with a closed fist, subdural hematoma and suffocation.

"I would respectfully say that they should be able to challenge this," said Fite, a long-time volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, whose advocates represent abused and neglected children in the court system.

"Believe me, no one can hate child abuse more than I do," Fite said after the session. "But then I also understand that things can happen, and they're not exactly as they appear to be. I think children are still being protected by this proposal, but I think we need to be able to look at things on a case-by-case basis."

Committee Chairman Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said the rules and regulations were too difficult to find on the Human Services Department's website.

"Somebody should be entitled to know where to go and notice all these rules. We're talking about, you know, depriving somebody of their liberty, their rights," Flowers said.

Flowers added that it was frustrating to have to deal with Arkansas Code, as well as the additional regulations from the department.

Under the Arkansas Administrative Procedure Act, 25-15-201 et seq., the director of the Human Services Department has the authority to change regulations as long as they are reviewed by legislative committees.

"The only thing I would suggest is that maybe we need to incorporate that into the Arkansas Code -- not all the rules, but at least a reference to the rules," Flowers said.

The Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry was established after a 1974 federal mandate required all states to maintain child-abuse records. It differs from the Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Arkansas Crime Information Center to track sexual abusers convicted in criminal court.

The Child Maltreatment Central Registry covers people accused of various types of child abuse, ranging from neglect to physical abuse, regardless of whether the accused were prosecuted. The Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry is used in pre-employment screenings by school districts, day-care centers, hospitals and other organizations that have children in their care.

Harper emphasized to the legislative committee on Wednesday that simply being able to request removal does not mean that the accused will be automatically removed. The process includes an in-depth application for removal that could include documentation that certifies the offender has been rehabilitated, clear background checks and the absence of any open cases with the agency.

People can also be denied removal from the registry based on any pending criminal charges surrounding allegations of abuse.

The requests are reviewed each month by a five-member team made up of a Human Services Department attorney, an area director, a supervisor and a program administrator with the Office of Community Services, as well as a representative from the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline.

From December 2012 to November 2013, the registry review team processed 159 requests for removal. Of those requests, 88 names were approved for removal from the list.

The proposal will go for a final review by the Arkansas Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations on July 9 before it goes into effect.

Metro on 06/05/2014