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Michigan House panel approves changes to state child abuse and neglect list

Lansing
(Bridge file photo)

Dec. 15: Michigan House unanimously approves changes to system that tracks child abuse

A Michigan House committee unanimously approved legislation Tuesday intended to make it more difficult for innocent people to be added to a state registry of adults deemed a serious risk to children.

The Central Registry, maintained by the Children’s Protective Services program within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, now lists more than 300,000 names. Some child-safety and foster care advocates have argued that too many parents and other adults get swept into the registry with little evidence they present a danger to children. That in turn makes it more difficult to attract potential foster parents.

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Under a nine-bill bill package approved by the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors Tuesday, adults who the Children’s Protective Services (CPS) program determines seriously abused or neglected a child in their care would no longer be automatically placed on the registry. 

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The package would require MDHHS to first take additional steps. The state would have to notify individuals CPS has determined they committed serious abuse or neglect within 30 days of making that finding. Those receiving the letter would then be offered an administrative review before their names are added to the list.

The measure would also allow individuals to appeal their place on the registry after 10 years.

With just a few days remaining in the legislative calendar for this year, it’s unclear whether the measure will come up for a full House vote this session.

The bill package is backed by the Michigan County Social Services Association, which represents local MDHHS administrators and child welfare directors in all 83 Michigan counties.

Unlike Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry, established in 1994 to publicly track people convicted of a variety of sexual offenses, a person does not need to be criminally convicted to go on the Central Registry. A criminal conviction requires a finding “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant committed a sex offense. A much lower standard must be met for the state to add someone to the Central Registry — that there is “a preponderance of evidence (more than 50 percent chance) the individual has abused or neglected their child and the future risk to the child is high or intensive.”

The list is not directly available to the public. But schools, foster care and childcare agencies, as well as organizations that hire volunteers who have contact with children, can indirectly access the registry by asking applicants if their name is on it. The burden then falls on applicants to get a clearance letter from MDHHS confirming they are not on the list.

Several people who said they were unfairly put on the registry told lawmakers, as well as Bridge Michigan, that the listing smeared their reputation and prevented them from joining school activities or engaging in foster care work.  

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The committee approved an addition to the original legislative package introduced this summer, adding a mechanism for law enforcement to report non-custodial adults who commit serious abuse or neglect to the registry.

State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, told the committee the change fixes what he described as a “40-year hole” in the registry, which was launched in 1975.

“If you think about the CPS registry, it’s typically limited…to caregivers. There’s a problem with that. Imagine the next-door neighbor abused your child.”

LaGrand said the addition would allow law enforcement to refer non-custodial adults convicted of criminal abuse or neglect to “simply refer those (names) to CPS.”

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