Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CM Wells chairs hearing on child protection & safety bills, seeks movement on bill pending before CM Mendelson's Public Safety Commitee

On Friday, Councilmember Tommy Wells chaired hearings on two important bills he introduced to improve child safety and early family-based intervention. The hearing addressed the “Safe Children and Safe Neighborhood Educational Neglect Mandatory Reporting Amendment Act of 2010” (B18-529), which restores the number of unexcused absences that an elementary school age child can accumulate before the child is referred to the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) from 20 to 10. Councilmember Wells said, “None of us will ever forget the tragedy of the Jacks-Fogle children, murdered by their mother. Three of those children were in elementary school and all had missed over a month of school." The bill would reinstitute a policy that Wells championed when he served on the School Board. The administration reversed the policy last year, but announced at the hearing that they support Wells's efforts to restore the lower threshold. According to Wells, when the initiative was first put in place, elementary school attendance rates increased 50%. Wells added, “When young children miss school, it’s typically not the result of indiviual choice, as it may be for teens. Absenteeism at this age typically results from a breakdown in family responsibility and intervention must be swift and family-focused to be effective.”

The hearing also addressed the “Families Together Amendment Act of 2010” (B18-667). This legislation complements the truancy proposal to allow CFSA to respond to reports of educational neglect with prompt supports and services to the family, and creates a critical opportunity to support parents early. This bill seeks to enable the Child and Family Services Agency to create a differential response or alternative pathway to engage families known to the child welfare system and connect them to a full range of services without requiring a determination of maltreatment.

Another Wells legislative initiative, his “information sharing” bill regarding juvenile confidentiality laws, which he has referred to as the “lifting the veil” bill, (B18-344) is currently sitting in Councilmember Mendelson’s Public Safety and the Judiciary Committee. Mendelson held a hearing on the bill several months ago, but has not moved it forward for a vote. Wells staff recently met with Councilmember Mendelson's staff and has offered to help draft revisions and the committee report to get it going. Wells remains hopeful that the bill will get moving quickly and is talking with CM Mendelson directly to try and make that happen. The bill has several cosponsors.

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