Indiana Child Abuse Registry

.jpg photo of Indiana State Senate - 2016
Indiana Senate – 2016

Child Abuse Registry proposal debated by
Indiana lawmakers

NEW PARIS, Indiana  –  Angie Garza never involved herself much in politics.

She lives in New Paris and works at an Elkhart County RV factory. Work, plus everyday family duties, commanded most of her attention.

Then her grandson, 19-month-old Kirk Coleman, died, allegedly at the hands of his caretaker, another New Paris woman.  Garza subsequently learned the woman, who faces a count of felony battery on a child resulting in death, had been convicted in connection with a 2006 incident involving another child.  She started asking questions – such as, is there a public registry containing the names of child abuse perpetrators?

Turns out there isn’t, not anything that’s readily accessible to the public, and that got Garza calling lawmakers, eventually Indiana Sen. Carlin Yoder.  It got her researching child abuse, and the numbers she came across astonished her – 470 substantiated abuse cases in Elkhart County alone in 2014, whether physical, sexual or by neglect.

It got her clamoring for change, for a law creating a public online registry of child abuse convicts, like online sex-offender registries.

Yoder jumped on board and this week Garza should find out if the resulting proposal he authored – Senate Bill 357 – has a future.  The measure – Garza calls it Kirk’s Law – received unanimous backing, 7-0, from the Senate Committee on Judiciary last week and it faces a likely up or down vote by Wednesday by the full Senate.

“I feel relieved that it’s moving,” says Garza.  If the family had a way to research her grandson’s caretaker before employing her, if someone knew about the woman’s past, “we may not have been in this situation.  Kirk may still have been here.”

Anissa Garza, Kirk’s mom and Garza’s daughter, leaves most of the public talking to grandma.  But the young woman, 22, backs her efforts.  She lives with her mom and dad in New Paris and their home is decorated with scattered tributes to Kirk, just 19 months old when he died on Oct. 29, 2014.

“My son was my life,” says Anissa, also incredulous at the number of abuse cases that occur year in, year out.  “You see (abuse) so much now.  It needs to stop.”

If the Senate approves SB 357, the proposal would face scrutiny by the Indiana House.

Nothing about Jackie Rolston, who lives maybe 2 miles away, raised the suspicions of the Garzas.  Angie Garza’s mother-in-law knew her, sold Avon products to her.

Anissa Garza remembers visiting Rolston before deciding to hire her to provide day care for Kirk, to babysit him while she was at work. She works for the same RV company that employs her mom and dad, Forest River.

“There were no, like, red flags,” Anissa Garza says.

At the same time, the court has yet to determine if Rolston is, in fact, guilty in connection with Kirk’s death.  The court entered a not guilty plea on Rolston’s behalf in April, according to court records, and a pretrial conference in the case is set for Thursday in Elkhart Superior Court 3.  Rolston, free on bond, had told first responders when called that day in 2014 that Kirk had been choking on his lunch, though an autopsy determined he died of some sort of blow to the head.

Still, the Garzas say if there had been a registry, maybe they would have known about the prior incident involving Rolston and a 2-year-old-boy in her care who suffered suspicious bruising.  Maybe they would have picked someone else to provide day care.  According to court records, Rolston ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony count of neglect of a dependent in the 2006 case and the charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor.

Kirk had been in the care of Rolston for about a year before the incident that resulted in his death.

Yoder, a Republican from Middlebury, says the bill still faces some last-minute tweaks.

The Indiana State Police, which would create and manage the registry, has some concerns.

Moreover, there’s no funding provision in the bill, which would cost an estimated $300,000 to establish and require additional funding each year to keep going.  It’s possible that actual implementation, if lawmakers give it the green light, would have to wait until 2017, after the next two-year budget cycle starts.

But Yoder says the measure is starting to generate bipartisan support.  What’s more, he sees the value of a registry of child abuse perpetrators since small day care operations, those caring for less than five kids, don’t face the same sort of background checks by the state that larger ones do.

For Angie Garza, it’s about keeping kids out of harm’s way.

“If it saves one child’s life, that’s the main thing right now,” she said. “We miss Kirk every day.”