UPDATE: The bill cleared the full Senate Thursday by a voice vote. It now heads to the House.
The death of a 3-year-old girl in Nashua last November has raised questions about state oversight and what actions should be taken when cases of child abuse are reported.
Katlyn Marin, the mother of Brielle Gage, has been charged with murdering her daughter.
Court records show the girl and her four siblings were placed in foster care in April of last year after Marin and her boyfriend were charged with felony child abuse.
The children were returned to the home while those charges were pending.
State Sen. David Boutin is the prime sponsor of a bill he hopes will help to prevent tragedies like this from occurring.
He spoke with Morning Edition producer Michael Brindley to talk about his proposal, which goes before the full Senate Thursday.
You filed Senate Bill 244 in direct response to what happened in Nashua. Explain what this will do.
It amends the Child Protection Act in three ways. First, what it does is provides that the court shall, upon finding probable cause that a child’s immediate safety is in endangered, that they will order a police officer to go into the home and investigate the situation.
Secondly, under current law, if a social worker goes to a home, they have no obligation to open their home to a social worker. A new section of the Child Protection Act will now allow the department to go and seek a court order to be able to enter the premises.
The third major change is in the case of Brielle, it is alleged that while she was in a foster home, there was investigations of abuse already underway. So the question that arises for many of us is if that was the case, why was she put back in her home? So now, a section of the Child Protection Act, the court has to find there is no imminent threat of harm before the child is returned to the home.
The burden of proof would now seem to fall on the state to prove that the child wouldn’t be in danger before being returned to the home. Is that correct?
Instead of giving the state and DCYF the option of entering the home when abuse allegations are reported, is it now the change would require them to obtain a warrant to enter the home?
If there was probable cause to do so and they felt that the child was in imminent harm, they would get a court order to be able to enter the home.
They would be required to get the warrant now, where before it was left to their discretion?
What have you heard so far about reaction overall to what happened in Nashua and how it was handled?
Because of the privacy provisions that DCYF operates under, there’s this curtain if you will where we don’t get the information. Many of us are very concerned about that. But more importantly, what we’re concerned about is that we take steps to protect the youngest and the most vulnerable, including young children like Brielle Gage from future harm.
DCYF says state law requires them try to keep families together if at all possible. Is this something you feel needs to change? In other words, should there be more emphasis on the safety of the child first rather than family unity?
Obviously, we all support the notion that families should stay together. But when a child is in imminent danger and especially when there’s reason to believe that child is in danger, we think the state should step in immediately to protect that child. That’s what this will allow for, which currently cannot happen because if they’re not allowed to enter the property and sent away, they don’t get to that investigation.
The bill also creates a Commission on Child Abuse Fatalities. What’s the goal of this commission?
It essentially covers four areas. They will be reviewing states laws, rules, and policies governing child abuse and neglect. They will be identifying any gaps within those policies and delivery of services to children who are victims of abuse.
The commission will look at existing procedures and see if they’re adequately providing for thorough and timely investigation to child abuse. Lastly, they’ll recommend any changes to state law and practices that are deemed appropriate.