Middlesex D.A. Flags Gap In State Child Protection Laws

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — One of the primary missions for the Department of Children and Families is to help protect youth from abuse, but a gap in state law prevents the agency from getting involved in cases where the alleged suspect is not a child's direct caretaker, a top prosecutor told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan urged the Judiciary Committee to advance legislation (H 1743) updating the state's child abuse and neglect laws to address several issues that her office and advocates working in the field have observed.

DCF can only take a report about an incident when a child has allegedly been abused by a caretaker, Ryan said, leaving other kinds of cases outside the coverage of the agency's expertise and resources.

"Under present circumstances, should a neighbor who just happens to be outside abuse a child and a report is made to the Department of Children and Families, they cannot proceed with that case because that neighbor was not serving as a caretaker," Ryan said. "Of course it can go to the police, but the provisions of this bill will ensure that every child gets all the range of protections that should be available."

The bill, filed by Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian (D-Melrose), would allow DCF to get involved in cases where an abuser is not a child's caretaker and would cover both sexual and physical abuse.

It would also standardize some definitions for child abuse cases to address what Ryan described as "some confusion mandated reporters face."

Written by Chris Lisinski, SHNS

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