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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Child safety bill allows physicians to check all children for abuse

 
Justin Sheely | The Sheridan Press Statistics from the Department of Family Services show the percentages of child abuse and neglect cases reported to DFS that are substantiated by year statewide.

SHERIDAN — Legislation passed this year will allow physicians to examine all children in a family after one child is suspected to be the victim of abuse. The law, while new, will likely not make a large impact for law enforcement agencies or physicians in Sheridan.

Senate File 60 passed 4-1 through the Senate Judiciary Committee and passed 6-2-1 through the House Judiciary Committee. It passed through the House on a tight 31-25-4 vote, failed in the Senate on the first round with a 15-13-2 vote but was reconsidered and passed 21-9 and 18-12 on final vote.

The bill allows physicians, physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners examining a child who they deem is a victim of child abuse or neglect to report results to law enforcement, who then can bring other children from the home to the medical professional for examination. The examination must occur within 24 hours of determining the other suspected victim of child abuse. Any of the medical professionals or law enforcement officers may consider and thus require temporary protective custody, if necessary, for the children.

From the standpoint of law enforcement, this practice of ensuring all children are safe if one is a suspected victim of child abuse is already in place and utilized during investigations.

“I don’t think it’s a great big leap,” Sheridan Police Department Chief Rich Adriaens said.

Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson concurred, saying under other statutes, law enforcement already works with the Wyoming Department of Family Services to take children into protective custody as part of an investigation of suspected or confirmed child abuse.

“This just makes it easier to bridge that gap, and you don’t have to extend that investigation on further children in the house, it’s just a given,” Thompson said.

The act serves as a proactive step in protecting children. Sometimes, but not often, there will be a target child, when one child in the family receives the brunt of abuse and neglect, according to Compass Center for Families Executive Director Susan Carr.

There are currently two cases in Sheridan County that have a target child. Carr said that is not common but does happen on occasion. The preventative measures of the bill are a step in the right direction.

“That’s kind of a big deal,” Carr said.

While different physicians undergo different trainings for differing specialties, Dr. Luke Goddard, in emergency medicine at Sheridan Memorial Hospital, said all medical professionals receive education and continual training on how to detect non-accidental trauma.

“For some nightmarish cases I’ve encountered in my career, often it seems like one child out of many will be abused; they’ll pick on the one child,” Goddard said. “It would be important to ensure that the other children are safe, and so to have a tool to do that is a good thing.”

Although the bill may not technically change the typical system for law enforcement or physicians immediately, it will enable them to act quickly for children’s safety if an incident does occur.


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