(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Marlene Caride and Raj Mukherji to provide protections for children and young adults with developmental disabilities who have been subjected to abuse or neglect gained final legislative approval, 76-2, from the General Assembly on Thursday.
The bill (A-3386) would provide 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.
“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 the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to conduct a child abuse registry check on a person seeking employment at DCF, in facilities or programs licensed, contracted, regulated, or funded 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) would provide protections 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 DCF.
“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.”
Under the bill, the commissioner shall adopt rules and regulations to provide for an investigation of a reported incident and the subsequent substantiation or non-substantiation of an allegation of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an individual 18 years of age or older with a developmental disability by a caregiver, by maintaining an Office of Investigation to investigate serious unusual incidents in facilities or community programs licensed, contracted, or regulated by the department.
During its investigation, the Office of Investigation shall make a good faith effort to notify the caregiver of the possibility of their inclusion on the registry, and give the caregiver an opportunity to respond to the department concerning the allegation.
Any substantiated incident of abuse, neglect, or exploitation against a caregiver of an individual 18 years of age or older with a developmental disability shall be forwarded to the commissioner, or the commissioner's designee, for inclusion on the central registry. All unsubstantiated incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation must also be forwarded to the commissioner, or the commissioner's designee.
“The people of New Jersey have a reasonable expectation that children 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.”
Under the measure, the DCF commissioner (or the commissioner's designee) would be required to review any incident of abuse, neglect, or exploitation as soon as possible, but no later than 14 days after receipt of the incident. The offending caregiver of a substantiated incident would be included on the central registry as expeditiously as possible. The Office of Investigation shall retain a record of all unsubstantiated incidents.
Ultimately, the bill will prohibit a person who is included on the central registry from being employed at the Department of Children and Families, or in any facility or program that is licensed, contracted, regulated, or funded by DCF.
“There needs to be better vetting of individuals tasked with the care of young people with developmental disabilities,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “These provisions ensure that individuals who have proven to be unfit for the job are not allowed anywhere near our most vulnerable populations.”
The bill also stipulates that copies of any investigative reports, which involve an individual with a developmental disability who is over the age of 18, who is receiving services from the Children’s System of Care, and who is the subject of an investigation, are to be provided by the Department of Human Services, the Office of Investigation, or other investigative entities, to the Commissioner of Children and Families or the commissioner’s designee.
Current law requires that such reports be forwarded to the Commissioner of Human Services.
The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk.