Gabriel's Law

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Bill Summary

This bill will require the creation and installment of a new student reporting system that will be accessed by all agencies that deal with children, create an educational seminar on child abuse incorporated into their early education curriculum and up through high school, add additional changes to the way Child Protective Services operates, and restrict records for deceased children from being redacted

Background

We have heard many stories of child abuse and neglect as a nationwide, systemic problem, citing case overloads as part of a bigger issue.

According to the 26th Child Maltreatment Report created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1575 child fatalities reported in 2011; 1619 child fatalities reported in 2012; 1551 child fatalities reported in 2013; 1583 child fatalities reported in 2014; and 1585 child fatalities reported in 2015, nationwide.  In 2015, nationwide, 78.61% of those children were all school age or otherwise, < 2 years old.

On May 22, 2013, Gabriel Fernandez, DOB February 20, 2005, received emergency response services due to full arrest as a result of approximately 8 months of child abuse and neglect at the hands of Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre.  Over the course of 8 months, over 50 reports were phoned into social workers to report abuse that went undocumented and unfounded, along with phone calls made to sheriff’s deputies, in regards to Gabriel.  In particular, Gabriel’s teacher, Jennifer Garcia, made numerous phone calls to the social worker on his case, citing his injuries.  Gabriel succumbed to his injuries on May 24, 2013, in what we know now as one of the worst cases of child abuse known to the United States of America.  On November 15, 2017, Isauro Aguirre was found guilty of 1st-degree murder with special circumstances of torture.  A trial for Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and the four social workers involved with Gabriel’s case are still pending.  When looking into other child abuse fatalities, it was found that the Department of Child and Family Services began redacting all of their records to prevent the community from researching cases. Transparency is vital to instill confidence in the agencies entrusted to protect children.

According to “The economic burden of child maltreatment in the Unites States and implications for prevention” (Child Abuse and Neglect. The International Journal. Fang, Brown, Florence, Mercy 2012), cited by the Center of Disease Control, “The estimated average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment is $210,012 in 2010 dollars, including $32,648 in childhood health care costs; $10,530 in adult medical costs; $144,360 in productivity losses; $7,728 in child welfare costs; $6,747 in criminal justice costs; and $7,999 in special education costs. The estimated average lifetime cost per death is $1,272,900, including $14,100 in medical costs and $1,258,800 in productivity losses. The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States in 2008 is approximately $124 billion. In sensitivity analysis, the total burden is estimated to be as large as $585 billion.

Findings concluded that the cost of living children who suffered maltreatment, in 2008, estimated a lifetime amount of approximately $210,012, while those whose maltreatment resulted in fatality cost an estimated lifetime amount of approximately $1.3 million. 

Problem

There is a systematic failure in communication with regards to the safety and welfare of at-risk children who depend on adults to protect them.  Had there been a system in place to allow for all agencies to effectively communicate with one another, and track all reports and documents, in regards to any reported child abuse, that may have helped save Gabriel’s life.  Children depend on adults for protection and safeguarding.  We are in an era of technology where we have need to improve, exponentially, our ability and duties to safeguard children.  Records for child abuse fatalities should be unsealed and social workers who have repeat fatalities need to be investigated and retrained.

Solution

        I.            A nationwide system needs to be installed, in all schools, child welfare agencies, law enforcement agencies, doctor’s offices, and district attorney’s office, that help mandated reporters create electronic SCAR (Suspected Child Abuse Report), allow the agencies to track reports and status of child abuse.

a.      The system shall have an alert for law enforcement and social worker of any extended absence that doesn’t have any parent contact/medical documentation over a 2-day period/as reported by the attending school. 

b.      The system shall have an alert for law enforcement and assigned social workers and their supervisors of any non-enrollment of children within a 2-day period. 

c.       The system shall have an alert for CPS supervisors for a daily review of any child that has repeated reports.

d.      In conjunction with each agency, especially if a school alert comes in, an immediate action plan is put in place to ensure the safety of the child.

e.      Doctor’s may flag any injury as possible child abuse which will create an electronic SCAR.

f.        District Attorney’s office will have the ability to create customizable reports and alerts based on criteria needed to help with cases and decisions made in regards to court cases and as needed.

      II.            A child abuse curriculum needs to be created and implemented starting at early education and moving up through high school.  This curriculum needs to be implemented into the foster system and the juvenile hall system as well.  The curriculum should include a discussion on all forms of abuse, from sexual harassment/sexual assault to all types of child abuse that can occur within the home.

    III.            Specific changes need to be made within the Child Protective Services to ensure adequate and complete recording.

a.      Assign nurses to social workers for house visits and documentation of any abuse to any child.

b.      Social workers assigned to Child Protective Services need to be able to handle the caseloads and demonstrate effective investigative and communicative skills. The requirement is 40 hours of in-service training to advance from CSW II to CSW III.

c.       If a worker cannot perform their tasks effectively, there needs to be immediate consequences or corrective discipline to ensure the safety of children in their care.

d.      Supervisor technique training needs to be provided to all current and future supervisors, to help ensure supervisory skills.  Additionally, they need to also have all the knowledge of working as a Child Protective Services social worker prior to being a supervisor for that department. 

e.      Computer systems must be well maintained and updated on a 5-year basis, to the most current technology, to keep up with efficiency.

f.        Any fatalities under a social worker must be thoroughly investigated and the worker must be removed from the Child Protective Services department until uptraining is completed and they can prove themselves capable of the position.

g.      Mandatory recorded interviews with social worker, nurse, and interviewee.

    IV.            Law Enforcement needs to be accountable and understand that child abuse claims are not only important but need to be documented.

a.      Any type of child abuse needs to be reported, via the new system, which will generate a SCAR

b.      Any call to a scene should include an address lookup to see if there are children residing at the residence and if there are any child abuse reports made, to make sure they have a well-rounded understanding of what they are walking into.

c.       The alert for suspected child abuse reports should be reviewed by Special Victims Unit, or a specific unit, to ensure that follow up.

      V.            Educational institutes should have the ability to have access to the system and file reports based on extended absences, tardiness or signs of abuse.

a.      Teachers should be able to file a SCAR from their desk in their classroom

b.      An alert from school should immediately trigger with Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services.

    VI.            Doctor’s office will be able to flag and note a child’s record in ways that will flag agencies depending on the situation.

a.      Extended absences will be flagged to go directly to school’s attendance office and immediately alert school of extended absence.

b.      The doctor can flag any abnormalities that appear to be child abuse that will create a SCAR to alert Child Protective Services of injuries and suspicions.

  VII.            All documents pertaining to a deceased child shall be made available, via an amendment to privacy laws, with all redaction markings removed.

VIII.            Increase Statute of Limitations for felony child abuse should be increased from 3 years to 6 years. In Many cases, children are not aware that they are victims to begin with. Often, it is not a single event, but consecutive instances over a span of time which requires that the statute be extended to the point where the victim first files a report of abuse.

    IX.            Failure to Report Child Abuse should be changed from a straight misdemeanor to a “wobbler” with a 3 or 6-year statute of limitations. Negligence to report abuse is not an acceptable excuse to prevent a child from obtaining criminal action. Purposefully declining or avoiding to file a report of abuse should be met with the more severe penalty.

      X.            Children who are in a coma or dying in manners consistent with murder or suspected foul play must undergo autopsy once deceased.

    XI.            Mandatory Child Abuse Education classes for all new welfare applicants.

  XII.            Adults living in a household, and witnesses to abuse of any minors within that household, who fail to report or try to prevent abuse to minors shall be charged as follows:

a.      Non-fatal injury to child - Accomplice to Child Abuse – min. 1-year

b.      Child Abuse resulting in fatal injury – Accomplice to Child Abuse resulting in Fatality – min 10 year. 



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