Bill urges new rules for investigating abuse of children with disabilities
MADISON, Wisconsin – Three state lawmakers are seeking support for a bill that would require the state to adopt certain protocols for investigating allegations of abuse and neglect when victims are children with disabilities.
The urged change to state law comes after a FOX6 investigation found children with disabilities in Wisconsin are dying, despite repeated calls to child protective service agencies. In the last five years, 15 disabled children have died and nine others have been egregiously injured.
“These are children. Their lives matter,” said Rep. LaTonya Johnson (D- Milwaukee), who is co-sponsoring this new legislation. “15 kids losing their lives over five years. If that was a result of a toy, we would be talking about a major recall.”
In some cases, FOX6 found investigations were closed because the child couldn’t effectively communicate with people investigating the allegations.
“Kids with autism, kids with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities will have a hard time explaining what happened to them. Sometimes they have very little speech,” explained Lisa Pugh with Disability Rights Wisconsin.
In this memo, circulated Monday, January 4th Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), Rep. Johnson, and Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) wrote “investigating claims of abuse and neglect of children with disabilities can present challenges for (child protective services) authorities if the child is non-verbal or communicates in an unfamiliar way, such as using symbols or signs to express themselves.”
The law, if passed, would require the Department of Children and Families to develop a model procedure to be used when investigating suspected child abuse or neglect of children with disabilities. That procedure would have to be drafted and implemented by January 1st, 2017. It would include making sure investigators use interviewing strategies that are tailored to the needs of children with disabilities. Currently, DCF says there is no special protocol for investigating cases involving disabled victims.
If the bill is passed, local agencies could adopt the model policy, or develop their own policy.
Investigators would be required to first determine whether a child has a disability and then take certain steps to figure out how to best communicate with that child.
The legislation would also require investigators to have special training to deal with these kinds of cases, and to collaborate with local law enforcement agencies.
Spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families, Joe Scialfa, says “DCF is currently in the process of reviewing the proposed legislation, having discussions with the bill’s author, and meeting with a variety of stakeholders in order to have a thoughtful and informed evaluation of the proposal.”