Better Record Keeping To Combat Child Abuse

.jpg photo of New Hampshire Police Officer
N.H. Senate considering bills to better protect Children

Senate committee considers bills designed
to combat child abuse, neglect

“Proposals would keep records of alleged abuses longer, extend time frame in custody”

CONCORD, N.H.  –  A trio of bills aimed at protecting New Hampshire’s abused and neglected children got a favorable reception from a Senate committee on Tuesday, though the chairman questioned whether one measure would give police and state workers too much access to sensitive information.

The Health and Human Services Committee held public hearings on bills that would require the Division of Children, Youth and Families to keep records on file for longer periods of times, would give police and DCYF workers more time to prepare for initial court hearings after children are removed from homes, and would allow DCYF and police to access a child’s medical records once an investigation is underway.

Those bills, along with another that is up for a vote on Thursday, were developed by the Commission on Child Abuse Fatalities, a group of lawmakers, state officials and advocates.

DCYF has faced increased scrutiny since the deaths of two toddlers. Sadence Willott, 21 months, of Manchester, died Sept. 6, and her mother has since been charged with second-degree murder.  In Nashua, Katlyn Marin is charged with beating her 3-year-old daughter, Brielle Gage, to death in November 2014.

Rebecca Ross, a senior assistant attorney general and member of the commission, said together, the four bills aim to bridge the gaps between law enforcement, medical providers and the child protection system.

“What we need is more communication and more resources and tools to make sure everyone has accurate information” to do their jobs, she said.

The committee chairman, state Sen. Andy Sanborn (R), of Bedford, questioned whether the third bill was necessary, because investigators already can get a child’s medical records by going to court and getting a warrant.

But the bill’s supporters, including several police officers who testified, said that can take a long time, particularly if a judge decides to review the records before granting access.  In most cases, a parent will grant access to the records, but that is not the case when the parent may be the abuser.

“I think we would use this fairly sparingly, when the suspects are guardians who are denying us the records,” said Lt. Nicole Ledoux, who supervises the juvenile unit at the Manchester Police Department.  “There is no other crime I can think of where the perpetrator controls the evidence that may help you determine what happened to the victim.”

Under the first bill, reports deemed unnecessary to investigate would be kept for seven years instead of one, reports deemed unfounded after an investigation would be kept for 10 years instead of three, and reports deemed credible would be kept indefinitely instead of for seven years.

Sanborn suggested that records should be destroyed after a child turns 18, but supporters of the bill noted that the goal is be able to see potential patterns of abuse.  The records could help an abused child bring civil claims against an abuser once he or she becomes an adult, they said, or could help prevent a grandparent who abused his or her children from later being given custody of a grandchild.

State Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican, and chairman of the commission that wrote the bills, called them critical steps toward making the state safer for children.

“I think we wish we could all wave a wand and this problem would go away, but that’s not possible,” he said.