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Hartford - State lawmakers are considering not only expanding the categories of adults who must report possible child sex abuse to include all youth coaches and camp counselors, but also increasing the penalties for individuals who fail to do so.
The new requirements and penalties could be part of legislation during this year's General Assembly session aimed at updating the state's mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse in response to the molestation scandal at Penn State University.
State law currently designates people in a variety of occupations with close contact to children as "mandated reporters" who must report any suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to either law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families. The legislature has expanded the categories several times through the years, but camp counselors, college coaches, and youth sports coaches not affiliated with a school are not included.
To gather ideas Tuesday for such a bill, members of the Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Children heard presentations from top state officials who deal with children and law enforcement matters.
Joette Katz, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, told the legislators that she believes youth coaches should be given such a mandate.
"That's where my children spent significant time growing up, and that's who I entrusted with their care," the commissioner said.
Katz also said that her department's 24-hour child abuse reporting hotline (1-800-842-2288) receives about 95,000 calls a year, and about 24,000 of those result in investigations.
State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein said she strongly supports making volunteer youth coaches mandated reporters. She suggested that legislators also consider adding to the list certain adults in coach-like roles, such as Boy Scout leaders and 4-H volunteers.
Mandated reporters have 12 hours to notify police or the department of children and families about a possible case of child abuse or neglect. The penalty for noncompliance is a fine of at least $500 but not more than $2,500.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane told lawmakers Tuesday that the penalty may not be severe enough.
"A higher penalty might very well be appropriate," he said.
State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who co-chairs the committee on children, said Tuesday's presentations contained many of the same suggestions and concerns legislators have heard from the public since news erupted of the Penn State scandal.
"You assume that when you're sending your kid to camp, they're safe and that they have all this in place," she said. "Well, they don't."
Urban anticipates the legislation will come from her committee once the session begins Feb. 8. The youth coaches could receive training on the signs of child sex abuse through an Internet course, she said.
Although Urban is typically uncomfortable with bills that attempt to "legislate a moral compass," she said, this legislation is different.
"When it comes down to children and the possibility that something like this could be stopped because we stepped in to remind people that this is your duty, then I'll do it," Urban said.