CSAO: Children Committee - February 28, 2017 - H.B. No. 7112



February 28, 2017

The Division of Criminal Justice respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE SUBSTITUTE REPORT for No. 7112, An Act Concerning Children’s Advocacy Centers. While the Division appreciates and supports the intent of the legislation, we cannot support it as it is now written because of the potential for substantial cost and unintended consequences. Given our support for the concept, the Division stands ready to work with all interested parties to draft substitute language addressing these concerns and better serving the children of this state.

Currently each judicial district within the state has as least one multidisciplinary team (MDT) that has been voluntarily established under C.G.S. Sec. 17a-106a. These teams, already established voluntarily by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the State’s Attorneys for each judicial district, are comprised of prosecutors, assistant attorneys general, DCF investigators and case workers, police officers, medical and mental health professionals, victims’ advocates and others knowledgeable in the care and protection of abused children and the investigation and prosecution of child abuse. In short, these teams are composed of professionals actually doing the work of caring for and protecting abused children and investigating and holding those responsible for abusing our children accountable.

Many, but not all, of these MDTs are affiliated with a children’s advocacy center, which has sought and obtained accreditation from a private out-of-state organization known as the National Children’s Alliance. This is a positive step, demonstrating that MDT’s commitment to excellence in the care of children and holding those who abuse children accountable.

The resources and needs of each MDT are not uniform, and these differences need to be considered before adopting universal standards that may require additional resources. It is with this in mind that the proposed legislation, while well intentioned, raises serious concerns as it ignores the necessity of any children’s advocacy center being MDT driven. The current in-state review process encourages each of our MDTs to strive for and maintain high standards. It is required by statute that this subcommittee of the Governor’s Task Force on Justice for Abused Children be "… comprised of individuals with expertise in the investigation of child abuse." It is important that expertise be continued so that children and both be cared for and protected.

Another concern with the bill is its potential funding requirement. Section (b) mandates with the word "shall" the establishment of MDTs by DCF and the State’s Attorneys. Not only is such a mandate unnecessary as DCF and the State’s Attorneys have already established at least one MDT per district, but the change for "may" to "shall" would now require a line item to fund a position for each required MDT member who is not already a government, state or local, employee. Examples of this from proposed section (c) of the bill would be mental health professionals and forensic interviewers. Currently grant funding and limited state funds from DCF pay for MDT coordinator salaries administered by private fiduciaries. Forensic interviews of children are now paid for by the Office of Victim Services on per interview basis. With state agencies, including the Division of Criminal Justice, already suffering crippling budget cuts, the additional requirement to hire unfunded personnel is unrealistic and unnecessary no matter how well intentioned.

In conclusion, the Division of Criminal Justice reiterates its support for the intention of H.B. No. 7112, but also reaffirms that we cannot support the bill as now written. We are willing to work with all interested parties to draft acceptable JOINT FAVORABLE SUBSTITUTE language to accomplish the worthy intentions without the negative consequences or the potential substantial cost the state simply cannot afford at this time. We thank the Committee for providing this opportunity to provide input on this important issue and we would be happy to provide any further information or to answer any questions the Committee might have.

Content Last Modified on 3/22/2017 9:26:30 AM