Child abuse registry may see changes
Hartford - Low-risk and rehabilitated suspects of child abuse and neglect might soon have the opportunity to have their names removed from the state's database under legislation being considered by the General Assembly.
The proposed bill would allow offenders on the state's child abuse and neglect database to appeal their listing after five years if they aren't involved in any new abuse reports or investigations.
Appeals would be granted to applicants who have rehabilitated themselves or have demonstrated other legitimate reasons for removal. Applicants would be required to submit at least two letters in support of the appeal from competent adults.
If the bill is passed, individuals would be able to begin applying for an appeal as early as July 1.
Currently, anyone identified as a perpetrator in Department of Children and Families investigations of child abuse and neglect is listed in a registry for such offenses, even if the individual is not convicted of a civil or criminal offense. Those listed in the registry can initially appeal the listing and can appeal it in court, if necessary. However, if they lose the appeal, they are permanently placed in the DCF child abuse database.
The database, unlike the sex offender registry, is private and not available to the public. Employers who work with children, however, can contact DCF with a release, signed by the potential employee, to verify that the individual doesn't present a risk to kids.
Because of this, some argue that while the registry was created to ultimately protect children, it can permanently damage the reputation of suspected offenders and subject them to unemployment.
Michael Agranoff, an attorney specializing in DCF cases, said he has been pushing the state legislature to adapt this measure. He said that while he is successful in winning appeals for some clients, Connecticut has very few DCF attorneys for adults and not every person accused can afford representation.
Agranoff said he has seen hundreds of people successfully rehabilitate themselves. He said no one should be subject to a potential lifetime of unemployment without being allowed to defend him or herself.
Thomas DeMatteo, the assistant agency legal director for DCF, said the agency supports the proposed legislation and is willing to give listed individuals a second look. Thousands of names are on the child abuse and neglect registry, he said.
"DCF works on the basis that people can rehabilitate themselves," DeMatteo said.
He said, now, around 30 percent of all alleged offenders who appeal their listing are successful.
Despite DCF's support, some child advocate agencies and activists have raised concerns over the bill's lack of details and potential effects on other registries.
Mickey Kramer, with the state's Office of the Child Advocate, said that while the bill sounds like a fair concept, she believes the proposed appeals process needs to be carefully scrutinized and, if passed, applied consistently across the state.
"The devil is in the details, which this legislation doesn't address," she said.
Kramer said she agrees with the concept of the legislation but thinks it needs to be more specific before she could support it outright. She said she will likely testify at the hearing.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, ranking member of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, also raised concerns over the bill's lack of details, specifically what qualifies a suspected offender as "rehabilitated." He said he'd like to see a more specific definition of the term and learn more about how a person would be evaluated.
"God forbid someone gets off of the registry and harms another child," Kissel said.
The Judiciary Committee will hear opinions on the bill at a Wednesday morning public hearing at the Legislative Office Building.
Meriden Republican Sen. Len Suzio said the Select Committee on Children, on which he serves as ranking member, reviewed identical legislation on the issue before ultimately removing it from the bill.
He said that, among other things, the committee questioned how the process of removing a person's name from the child abuse and neglect registry would work when a suspected offender could potentially still be listed on the state's sex offender registry.
Like Suzio, Karen Jarmoc, the executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, also expressed concerns on the relation between the child abuse and sex offender registries.
Jarmoc said allowing offenders to remove their names from the child abuse and neglect database may open the door for individuals to try and get their names off of other lists, like the sex offender registry.
She said the legislature needs to be careful that it doesn't create a precedent for this type of name removal.
Last year, similar legislation that included a section concerning parental consent for children being interviewed by DCF failed to make it to the floor for a vote in the Senate. This year, the measures are separated into two bills.
Bill supporters are optimistic that the name removal legislation could be passed this session, as DCF is once again behind the measure.