2019 Legislative Priorities

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By Joyce Lombardi

The 2019 legislative session in Annapolis is in full swing. (Mark your calendars for Tuesday, March 12, BCAC Lobby Day!) It’s an exciting time, with new leadership in several committees and several fresh new faces from right here in Baltimore and around the state of Maryland. BCAC will continue working with our existing legislative and advocacy partners while we form new relationships during this legislative session, so that together we can address childhood trauma and abuse. Here’s what we are working on this legislative session, and how you can help:

What We’re Working On This Session

Children’s Advocacy Centers for all Maryland Children
BCAC is supporting a bill, along with members of the Maryland Children’s Alliance, to help ensure every child has access to an accredited children’s advocacy center (CAC). Following a report of child abuse or neglect, a child should be seen promptly at a nationally accredited CAC, where he or she can talk with a trained forensic interviewer in a child-friendly setting, thus reducing trauma of multiple interviews by different agencies, and helping to create trustworthy legal evidence if needed. Nationally accredited CACs also take part in multidisciplinary teams that collaborate to get the best outcomes, and provide medical evaluation, family support and mental health services. While many child centers in the state try to meet this best practices standard of service, many lack the infrastructure or resources to do so. This bill so far has gained wide support among our CAC partners in the state and other stakeholders. Senator Susan Lee of Montgomery County, a longtime friend of children’s and women’s issues, is the lead sponsor in the Senate. The House sponsor is exciting newcomer Emily Shetty of Montgomery County. So far the bill has received warm bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, by, among others, Senators Will Smith, Jeff Waldstriecher, and Chris West, and in the House by Delegates Kathleen Dumais, Jazz Lewis, Susan McComas, and David Moon. Legislators from around the state continue to voice support on each of our visits. Many of our CAC partners have been joining us in Annapolis to explain our work to their representatives.

Mandatory Reporter Accountability
Most (over 60%) reports of child abuse come from professionals such as teachers, youth workers and health personnel. Although all professions have a binding legal duty to report suspected child abuse, some simply do not report. BCAC, along with other advocates, faith-based institutions, prosecutors, social workers and pediatricians support a law that would close a final gap in Maryland and provide penalties for those few—but dangerous—professionals who turn a blind eye to known child abuse. Maryland is one of only two states in the nation that lacks such a law. A similar bill sailed through the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee under Chairman Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County last session but stalled in the House Judiciary. The new vice chair of House Judiciary, Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary of Howard County, is ready to steward a new accountability bill through this session.

Safer Schools
School personnel who engage in sexual misconduct with students in one school district are often passed to and re-hired in another. BCAC supports efforts by State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and Delegate C.T. Wilson to end this practice. The law would do what criminal background checks do not: require that school job applicants and former employers reveal past investigations or discipline for sexual abuse or misconduct.

Decriminalizing Child Victims of Human Trafficking
BCAC, along with its partners on the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, supports legislation that would allow child victims of human trafficking to vacate criminal charges related to trafficking, and to avoid being charged in the first place.

How You Can Help

  • Come to Annapolis for BCAC Lobby Day March 12th! Come help raise awareness about abused children and childhood trauma! Bring your colleagues and friends. Stay tuned for more information.
  • Make just one phone call this session. Call just one of your legislators to voice your support for a specific child abuse awareness bill that BCAC is working on this session. We will provide a list and talking points. Even one call makes a difference.
  • Get involved in one particular bill. Does one of the bills we are working on interest you more than others? To join that workgroup, email jlombardi@bcaci.org or call 443-923-7005.

Joyce Lombardi, Esq. is BCAC’s Director of Government Relations and Legal Services. She can be reached at jlombardi@bcaci.org and she welcomes questions and comments about how child abuse laws are being used in Maryland.

Back to School Safety:  6 New Child Abuse Laws To Know

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By Joyce R. Lombardi

While abuse, sexting, and predatory teachers aren’t great dinnertime topics, they are all, unfortunately, part of many kids’ back-to-school experience. Whether your kids know it or not, they are likely to know at least one child who is being (or will be) abused at home or at school.

One way to broach the topic is to ask your child to find out what their school is doing about child abuse. The Maryland General Assembly has passed a number of child abuse bills in recent years, and it’s possible that your child’s school might not be up to speed yet. If they are, great. If not, your child’s questions can help them. We are all in this together.

These questions work best coming from kids in middle and high school, but you can ask the school yourself if you want. The answer key is included.

Q: What kind of child abuse education do kids get in school?

A: After Erin’s Law went into effect in July 2016, public and certain nonpublic schools must teach kids K-12 about “the awareness and prevention of sexual abuse and assault.”  Jurisdictions were free to shape their own curriculums, and many have incorporated lessons on inappropriate/appropriate touch, not keeping secrets, and telling adults.

As of July 1, 2018, each county’s public school family life and human sexuality curriculum must include age-appropriate education on the meaning of “consent” and personal boundaries. It’s a new law, but ask your kids to find out if your school is doing anything yet.

Q: What kind of child abuse education do teachers and staff (i.e. adults) get?

A: Truly, only adults can prevent and stop child abuse. The Child Abuse Prevention Bill, which also went into effect July 1, 2018, requires that school personnel in public and certain nonpublic schools receive annual training on the prevention, identification and reporting of child sexual abuse. (Note: This does not include neglect or physical abuse; despite attempts by BCAC, there is no mandatory statewide training requirement for identifying and reporting those kinds of abuse.)

The new law requires that school personnel are trained in preventing child sex abuse, including how to recognize and address grooming behavior, and how to identify and report suspected abuse. The law also requires schools to create codes of conduct to address and prevent abuse, and to make sure their physical spaces do not encourage abuse.

Q: Do teachers or coaches or school staff have to report child abuse?

A: Yes. For decades, school personnel (and others, such as health professionals and law enforcement) have been mandatory reporters in the State of Maryland, meaning they must report if they have “reason to believe” child abuse or neglect has occurred, no matter how far back it was, or even if they only have a suspicion. Child abuse in Maryland means physical or sexual abuse, as well as child exploitation (e.g., photographs) and human trafficking. Since 2017, Maryland’s “child abuse” definition includes not just parents and household members, but anyone with authority or temporary care and custody over a child, including school personnel, coaches, and teachers.

Q: To whom does a teacher/school have to report child abuse?

A: This is not new, but teachers and principals often do not know that the law (Maryland Code, Family Law §5-704) requires the person who has the suspicion of abuse to report OUT to the Department of Social Services or police and UP to a principal or supervisor. Often, a staff member just reports up. This creates a problem, because, far too often, the principal or other authority figure tries to handle the abuse on her own, rather than alert the authorities. Your child can find out if their teachers and counselors know they must report out, as well as up.

Q: Are there signs posted in your school for the child abuse hotline?

A: This is an easy one—no talking required. As of July 1, 2018, schools are encouraged (but not required) to post the telephone number of the local department of social services to report suspected child abuse or neglect. (Note: Every county has its own reporting number, but that will change in a couple of years.)  Once the statewide child abuse number is released, schools can post that instead.

Q: What does the school do if someone at the school spreads sexual pictures of your child (e.g. sexting, revenge porn) or sends them lewd photos?   

A: Several things. As of 2017, an adult in authority who solicits or sends lewd/inappropriate pictures with children must be reported to police or social services under the mandatory reporter law. Students who engage in unwanted sexting or sharing sexual images with each other might fall under the state’s brand new cyber-bullying law. Starting October 1, 2018, Maryland’s definition of cyberbullying now includes intentional electronic sharing of sexual images and content that creates a hostile educational environment. The bill also requires that public (and some private) schools’ model procedures on handling bullying include notice to victims and their families.

BCAC’s training department can also help if your child’s school wants guidance on child abuse prevention training and policies. Contact training@bcaci.org or call 410-923-7003 for more information.

Joyce Lombardi, Esq. is BCAC’s Director of Government Relations and Legal Services. She can be reached at jlombardi@bcaci.org and she welcomes questions and comments about how child abuse laws are being used in Maryland.