The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 27, 2014

Area lawmaker’s child-abuse bill clears state House

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House on Thursday passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, that would extend the amount of time social workers have to investigate claims of child abuse.

The bill would change state law to give the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services 30 business days — eight more days than currently allowed — to complete an investigation of child abuse or neglect.

Lant said several caseworkers, already facing a backlog on investigations, had asked for the legislation to allow the additional time. The bill would not affect emergency removals of children; it would apply to actions taken by the Children’s Division after a child has been removed from a home.

Lant said there is no firm number on how many cases are backlogged, but he said he knows that the number is large and is growing.

“We don’t have people that are properly trained, and they get out there and start doing what they’re doing and it overwhelms them,” he said. “You add to that the fact that last year all of the metropolitan areas in the state doubled the amount of children that were removed because of neglect.”

The bill, House Bill 1092, passed 150-1 and is headed to the state Senate.

Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, expressed concern during floor debate Thursday that the bill could worsen the backlog already faced by the department.

“I haven’t heard any justification that the eight days would absolutely fix the problem,” he said.

Lant said the bill is supported by the Department of Social Services, which he said “feels like this is a good step toward solving this problem.”

Democrats such as Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis, said that while they support the bill, they also believe the problem could be addressed by fully funding the Children’s Division.

“We don’t have near enough money in general,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best with additional appropriations.”

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has called for a significant boost to the Children’s Division’s funding. His fiscal 2015 budget recommendations include $11 million for 23 staff members to serve “the increasing number of children in state custody” and $2.3 million to increase the salaries of field workers.

Lant said the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect will begin meetings in the next few weeks to continue to explore the crisis facing the Children’s Division. Lant will chair the committee, he said.

“This is a first step,” he said of the bill passed Thursday. “We don’t have a lot of time. We’ve got to come up with answers. This is a critical problem.”

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