The Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Marlene Caride to provide protections for children under the age of 18 with developmental disabilities and individuals with developmental disabilities ages 18 to 21 receiving services from Division of Children's System of Care.
"With regards to abuse and neglect, the law fails to provide statutory provisions for our most vulnerable residents," said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "The legislation rectifies this oversight by requiring the state to institute regulations and monitor closely care service providers within the division as well as community providers."
Currently, there are no statutory provisions that specifically mandate DCF to conduct a child abuse registry check on a person seeking employment at DCF, in facilities or programs licensed, contracted, regulated, or funded, as applicable, by DCF or DHS or seeking to provide community-based services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Additionally, there are no regulatory provisions prohibiting a person included on the registry from obtaining such employment or providing such community-based services.
"There must be clear procedures in place to address complaints of abuse regarding children with developmental disabilities," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "It is essential for their protection and for ensuring the proper care of the state's most vulnerable citizens. This legislation is long overdue and absolutely necessary going forward."
The bill (A-3386) provides protection for individuals with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 21 who have been subjected to abuse, neglect, or exploitation and are receiving services from the Division of Children's System of Care (CSOC) in the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
The measure mandates that DCF conduct a check of its child abuse registry for each person who is seeking employment at the department, or in any facility or program licensed, contracted, regulated or funded by the department, or who is seeking to provide community-based services with indirect State funding to individuals with developmental disabilities, in order to determine if the person is included on the registry as a substantiated perpetrator of child abuse or neglect, and immediately forward the information to DHS.
"New Jersey has a responsibility to ensure the well-being of the young people in its care," said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). "This legislation puts forth a protocol to prevent abuse and make sure that all reports of abuse will be dealt with seriously."
"The people of New Jersey have a reasonable expectation that individuals will be safe in a state-run program or facility," said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Our state must change its laws in order to meet that expectation."
The legislation also establishes procedures for the transfer of investigative reports relating to an act of child abuse or neglect, involving children under the age of 18 with developmental disabilities between the Department of Human Service (DHS), the Office of Investigation in DHS, and the Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit (IAIU) in DCF.
Specifically, the bill provides that, when DHS receives a report of abuse, neglect, or exploitation by a caregiver of an individual between the ages of 18 and 21 with a developmental disability who is receiving services from CSOC, DHS, the Office of Investigation in DHS, IAIU, or any other investigative entity would be required to concurrently notify the Director of CSOC, or the director's designee, of the referral for inclusion of the offending caregiver on the central registry. DHS, the Office of Investigation, IAIU, or other investigative entity would also be required to notify the director of any substantiated reports.
Currently, the law requires that such reports be forwarded to the Commissioner of Human Services.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee in March before receiving further consideration by the Assembly Budget Committee, of which Schaer is chair.