JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Supreme Court has heard arguments on two cases that could result in pending child abuse investigations being thrown out, and the removal of names from the state’s child abuse and neglect registry.
Two women filed lawsuits saying child welfare workers didn’t notify them within 90 days of initial abuse and neglect reports made against them, of the conclusions of investigations into those reports. State law allows 30 days for such allegations to be investigated and 90 days for the accused to be motified of the case worker’s finding.
Representative Bill Lant has filed a bill that would give those workers 30 business days to complete investigations. He says that would be a good starting point, the details of which could evolve during the legislative session.
“It adds nearly 30 percent to the total amount of time they have when you think about the four weekend days that month of time … in most cases it’s going to let them complete that job.”
Lant has filed the annual report on the findings of the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. Of the findings in that report, he says he wants to focus this year on improving training and support for child welfare investigators. He thinks that will help them reduce caseloads and thereby diminish the number of cases that go beyond the statutory timelines.
Child welfare advocates are worried about how the state Supreme Court will rule on two cases related to the time it takes to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect.
Two lower courts have agreed with two women who say child welfare investigators didn’t tell them by the statutory deadline the outcome of investigations that led to their names being put on the registry of child abuse and neglect. Caseworkers have 30 days to investigate allegations and 90 days to tell the accused what they find.
Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily Van Schenkhof says the cases before the Supreme Court could be causing investigators to be told to rush cases.
“Saying that (caseworkers) have to have a letter out to the person … that you have to have this case decided in a certain timeframe … it’s just not possible in all cases,” says Van Schenkhof. “We’re forcing people to make decisions when they don’t have all of the facts and we want people to have quality investigations, not just simply, ‘We’ve got to meet this timeframe and if we don’t, we lose jurisdiction.’”
She worries that cases older than 90 days will be dropped.
“So where does this leave these children?” asks Van Schenkhof. “We’re dropping these children and a lot of times in very complex cases. Law enforcement doesn’t have these sort of artificial timeframes.”
The Court heard arguments in those cases December 3. Decisions could come at any time.
Representative Bill Lant (R-Pineville) has filed a bill that would allow 30 business days for investigations.