Category Archives: Better Laws

Senate Passes Trafficking Bill

.jpg photo of Loretta Lynch
Senate passes trafficking bill 99 – 0

The unanimous 99-0 vote belied much of the drama behind the legislation.

The Senate passed a bill aimed at combating human trafficking on Wednesday afternoon, putting to rest six weeks of gridlock over abortion politics and clearing the way for Loretta Lynch to be confirmed as the next attorney general.

The unanimous 99-0 vote belied much of the drama behind the legislation, which jammed up the Senate floor amid partisan bickering over whether the bill’s restitution fund for victims should be subject to abortion restrictions. The row over social issues also obscured strong support for the measure’s core provisions aimed at combating sex slavery.

“Help is finally on the way for the thousands of enslaved victims who suffer unspeakable abuse in the shadows,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday. “We’re relieved we can finally say it will pass today.”

When the bill hit the Senate floor, Democrats raised objections after failing to notice the abortion restrictions in committee. Things got heated when McConnell tied passage of the bill to Loretta Lynch’s confirmation vote and Democrats lambasted Republicans for holding up the president’s pick to head the Justice Department.

But after several rounds of breakneck negotiations over the past week, both parties agreed to move past the embarrassing episode by compromising on a rewrite of the abortion language.

The legislation offers new resources to human trafficking victims, increases fines on the promoters of sex slavery, creates block grants for juvenile trafficking victims and gives law enforcement new tools to combat the trafficking trade. Those components have consistently drawn support from all 100 senators; it was only the bill’s abortion restrictions that produced a tense, partisan floor fight.

In the initial version of the bill, money for victims came from fines, not the government’s general fund. But the fine money was subject to Hyde amendment prohibitions on spending federal dollars on abortions, which Democrats worried was an expansion of Hyde’s reach.

The solution reached by party leaders was to funnel money into the restitution account from two streams: Fines on traffickers for legal services and from the general fund for health care, where it’s already subject to the Hyde abortion restrictions.

Senators admitted that the bill hadn’t changed much from its initial, non-controversial form, and most lawmakers were eager to move on.

“This is called democracy. It’s all about the end result. We couldn’t get it passed and now we’re going to pass it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The compromise and the descriptions of the legislation by party leaders elicited contrasting responses from abortion activists, with Planned Parenthood praising Democratic leaders’ for holding the line on the Hyde amendment and NARAL Pro-Choice America panning the compromise because it “still denies the most vulnerable women necessary access to vital health services.” The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List backed the compromise.

Party leaders also drew contrasting lessons from the debacle. Democrats said they’ve proven to McConnell that when they stick together the GOP will get nothing, while McConnell said his unusual tactic of linking Lynch’s nomination to the trafficking bill was ultimately successful and he had no regrets.

But members of the rank and file said the idea of sorting winners and losers from the ugly conflict was impossible. The biggest lesson learned might be that social issues like abortion can still cripple the Senate — and cause a high-profile nomination to languish weeks longer than it otherwise would have.

“People had strong principled feelings about it. No one was sitting around going: ‘We’ve got a strategy to make them look bad,’” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “We just stood our ground. And unfortunately Loretta Lynch’s nomination was a victim of that process, which it never should have been.”

PA Child Abuse Background Checks Law

Pennsylvania  –  Nearly 152,000 requests for child abuse clearances poured into the ChildLine office of the state Department of Human Services in the first two months after a new background check law took effect on Dec. 31.

Out of those applications that have been processed, 185 – less than 1 percent – were submitted by individuals with some history of child abuse.

Given that small percentage, is this law that requires anyone who has routine interaction with children in a work or volunteer capacity to obtain criminal background checks and a child abuse clearance overkill?

You would be hard-pressed to find any child advocate to say that. Rather they say if anything, it is a reason to celebrate the fact that perpetrators of child abuse were prevented from gaining access to children.

Yet even advocates are seeing a world of confusion surrounding the new law and believe some tweaking could help the public better understand what it requires.

That work is already underway. A bi-partisan team from the House and Senate are working on legislation that is hoped to reach Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk by late spring. Assisting with that work are representatives from the human services department, Department of Education and Pennsylvania State Police.

“We’re looking to make it more explicit in statute so we don’t have an over-reliance on guidelines from the Department of Human Services,” said House Children and Youth Committee executive director Greg Grasa.

The need for clarity became apparent when some lawmakers’ offices were barraged with questions in recent months about who exactly was subject to the background checks requirement that must be updated every three years, and when they needed to get them. Other concerns include the fees attached to checks, which can run close to $50.

Hearing the real-world scenarios made it evident a little more work on the law to address the ambiguities was required. But Grasa made it clear that those working on clarifying the law in no way are looking to roll back the background check requirement.

That was a concern for Center for Children’s Justice founder Cathleen Palm.

“We had been worried that given all the confusion and anxiety, we felt there was an opportunity to walk it back but it doesn’t appear that people are trying to walk it back at all,” Palm said.

Requiring employees and adult volunteers who work directly with children on an ongoing basis to obtain state – and in some cases, federal – criminal background checks along with child abuse clearances is what she considers the gold standard.

“Having the state dictate which background checks need to be done, I don’t think you’ll find that in other states,” she said.

She said the proactive stance in mandating these requirements, although not a total panacea to the problem of preventing child abuse, makes Pennsylvania a leader in child protection nationally and she doesn’t want to see it backslide by weakening that law.

Neither does Bucks County District Attorney Dave Heckler, who chaired the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection formed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal to look at flaws in the state’s child protection laws.

Heckler said Pennsylvania ranked pretty poorly in terms of its background check requirements, which led to the task force’s recommendation to strengthen them.

Even though the new law has drawn criticism about the expense and bother involved in getting the checks and having to update them every three years, Heckler said, “I would absolutely stand by it. … This is for the protection of children, not the convenience of adults.”

He said the state might find ways to make the process for getting the checks more efficient and perhaps less expensive, “but the idea that we would get rid of these requirements, uh huh. We’re trying to protect children. We did a wretched, wretched job of it before and Jerry Sandusky is the classic poster child, but he is far from being alone.”

April is “Go Blue” Month in Weatherford TX

Child Abuse Awareness
April is Go Blue Month in Weatherford, Texas

Weatherford, Texas – April is “Go Blue” month in recognition of awareness and focus on child abuse prevention. Agencies like Child Protective Services, CASA-Hope For Children and law enforcement agencies and courts work to get the word about how to identify child abuse or neglect, and the importance of reporting suspected abuse.

How to recognize child abuse

There are four major types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse,and emotional abuse.

Suspect physical abuse when you see:

  • Frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, black eyes or burns without adequate explanations.
  • Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury.
  • Aggressive, disruptive and destructive behavior.
  • Passive, withdrawn and emotionless behavior.
  • Fear of going home or seeing parents.
  • Injuries that appear after a child has not been seen for several days.
  • Unreasonable clothing that may hide injuries to arms or legs.

Suspect neglect when you see:

  • Obvious malnourishment.
  • Lack of personal cleanliness.
  • Torn or dirty clothing.
  • Stealing or begging for food.
  • Child unattended for long periods of time.
  • Need for glasses, dental care or other medical attention.
  • Frequent tardiness or absence from school.

Suspect sexual abuse when you see:

  • Physical signs of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Evidence of injury to the genital area.
  • Pregnancy in a young girl.
  • Difficulty in sitting or walking.
  • Extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex.
  • Sexual comments, behaviors or play.
  • Knowledge of sexual relations beyond what is expected for child’s age.
  • Sexual victimization of other children.

Emotional abuse is mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in a child’s growth, development or psychological functioning. It includes extreme forms of punishment such as confining a child in a dark closet, habitual scapegoating, belittling and rejecting treatment for a child.

Suspect emotional abuse when you see:

  • Over compliance.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Severe depression, anxiety or aggression.
  • Difficulty in making friends or doing things with other children.
  • Lagging in physical, emotional and intellectual development.
  • Caregiver who belittles children, withholds love and seems unconcerned about the child’s problems.

Call the Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400 and request advice by reporting your concerns. The hotline is answered 24-hours a day, seven-days a week. Remember that child abuse prevention is a community issue. Reach out to colleagues and friends who share your concerns for the well being of your community’s children. As an advocate you can make a difference in the child’s life and demonstrate there are adults who care.

To find out what you can do in your community, contact Prevent Child Abuse Texas, 1-800-252-5400, 

Child Sex Abuse cases up in Montgomery County, OH

DAYTON, OHIO — Although the number of child neglect and physical and emotional abuse investigations declined in Montgomery County last year, sexual abuse cases slightly increased, officials announced.

But child abuse can be prevented if everyone in the community helps, Montgomery County leaders stressed at Thursday’s kickoff to Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

“We always want you to call, and call our (937) 224-KIDS number whenever you have a concern about possible abuse or neglect,” said Deb Downing, assistant director for children’s services at Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services. “We have staff who are dedicated and trained to make those determinations as to whether or not investigation is warranted.”

The number of such investigations in Montgomery County fell from 3,621 in 2013 to 3,450 in 2014. And while neglect, physical and emotional investigations dropped, sexual abuse cases rose slightly. Overall, officials said the numbers are consistent from year to year.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said that nationally, an abuse report is completed every 10 seconds, nearly 1,700 children in the United States will die as a result of abuse or neglect in 2015 and that 30 percent of children who are abused will abuse their own kids.

“These are kids that are never given a chance,” Heck said at the gathering at Haines Children Center at 3304 N. Main St. “And that’s just so tough, I think, to really understand unless you deal with it every day. These are not just stats, but these are living people. These are children that you’re dealing with and helping to make a difference.”

Montgomery County Commissioners Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge and CARE House director Libby Nicholson joined Downing and Heck at the event. They were surrounded by case workers and other children services employees.

Thousands of calls of suspected abuse or neglect come into children services and are evaluated each month. Downing said, “Sometimes, those calls are just … we can connect people with community services so that we can strengthen them and get them the services they need.”

Downing said the causes for child abuse and neglect vary but reflect problems in society.

“Of course drugs are a huge issue in our community, but it’s (also) family isolation, not having support systems, the stresses of modern-day life,” she said. “If a parent is having drug or alcohol issues, oftentimes that becomes their priority rather than tending to the needs of the children,” Downing said.

Some calls result in connecting families with resources.

“Our focus is on working with that individual family and trying to strengthen that family and … what services are needed to help them, and of course sometimes despite our best efforts, you know we can’t help that family and so we have to make alternate plans for the child,” Downing said.  ”A lot of our cases never rise to the level of a criminal prosecution, so those criminal cases are really the most extreme cases that we deal with.”

Heck echoed others’ comments that it takes someone to take a stand and have courage to report child abuse.

“It takes all of us,” Heck said. “Not just children services case works, not just law enforcement, not just the cops, not just prosecutors, it takes all of us to be involved if we’re going to prevent child abuse and hold those responsible for child abuse …. and bring them to justice.”

Protesters are frustrated with child abuse plea deal

Boy Chained To Porch, Dead Chicken Around His Neck

UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) – More than 50 people protested Saturday against a former Union County DSS supervisor’s plea deal. Demonstrators said her punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

The protesters say they are angry because Wanda Larson is scheduled to get out of jail just days after she pleaded guilty to child abuse charges.

Tuesday, Larson entered a plea on two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts in a Union County court. She admitted to her role in shackling an 11-year-old boy to a porch with a dead chicken around his neck.

A judge ruled that the majority of her 17-month sentencing was already served. She also received five years of probation for the other felony.

People like Jeff Gerber of the Justice For All Coalition marched outside of the Monroe County courthouse to voice their outrage.

“We strongly oppose the decision of the Union county district attorney to not only avoid trial, avoid putting these five children on the stand, but to offer a golden parachute of a plea deal to Ms. Larson in the first place,” said Gerber. “These children deserve justice.”

Larson and her boyfriend, Dorian Harper, were foster parents to a total of five children. Authorities say all the children were abused.
Harper who also accepted a plea deal was sentenced to six to ten years of jail time for child abuse and maiming.

Larson has already spent more than 500 days in jail, because of that time served Larson could be out of jail as soon as next week.

Before Larson’s arrest, her job was to protect children. She was a Union County Department of Social Services for more than a decade.