A committee created at the urging of state Rep. Bill Lant, R-Joplin, will begin work soon to study state programs and systems designed to protect Missouri’s children.
Lant is among Republican members of the House named to the newly created Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. Other House members, appointed by Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, are Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, and Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis. Three Democrats will be appointed by minority leadership in the House and seven members of the Missouri Senate also will be named.
The committee became a cause for him, Lant said, after meetings with schoolteachers and principals in his district who told him of instances of abuse and neglect of children and the difficulties they had getting help for those youngsters.
Now that word of Lant’s efforts is out, the representative said he’s getting more calls about the problem. He said statistics show that age 9 is the average age for a child to be sexually abused in Missouri, and that one of every four children is abused before age 14.
“I hear three stories a week — minimum,” he said. “It’s not just child abuse, sometimes the situation is foster care. There are foster parents out there doing wonderful things, but some other things need to be addressed.”
Once the full committee is named, members will gather information for an analysis of the current child abuse and neglect reporting and investigation system. The committee will use the information to devise a plan for improving the decision-making process in removing a child from the home. Members also will work to determine if additional resources are needed to protect children and improve their welfare, and will discuss the need for additional foster care homes in the state.
The committee also will collect information in public hearings throughout the state, including the Joplin area, Lant said.
Schoeller said the goal of the committee “is to provide the strongest and safest network of support possible for children in harm’s way.
“We want to make certain we are providing the best working environment and training to identify abuse and an appropriate solution to ensure each child is protected when abuse is occurring,” he said.
Lant said the structure of the joint committee will increase its influence. Once appointed, the committee will meet year-round rather than just during the legislative session from January through May. The committee will remain in existence until 2018 and members will serve for the duration of their tenures in the House and Senate, “so work that starts one year can go right into the next year.
“We are going to make this a better state for children, and make children safer,” Lant said.
Lant said he is hopeful remaining members of the committee can be named during the General Assembly’s veto session this month.
Political campaigns will shift into high gear now that parties’ political conventions have wrapped up.
Democrats are home from their recent gathering in North Carolina, except for Claire McCaskill, who never went. The U.S. Senate incumbent stayed home and attended campaign events throughout the state.
Her opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, continued last week to issue press releases blaming the 8.1 percent unemployment rate on “the failed policies of Barack Obama and Claire McCaskill.”
Akin also continues to make fundraising appeals after the Republican Party and other backers pulled funding after he refused to withdraw from the race. Party leaders wanted him to drop out after his comment that women rarely get pregnant if they are the victim of a “legitimate rape,” a remark for which he has repeatedly apologized.
Susan Redden is a staff writer for the Globe. She can be reached at email@example.com or 417-623-3480, ext. 7258.