Bill to redefine “harm” in relation to child abuse

Legislatures are looking to redefine the term “harm” in relations to child protection policies. Currently, the definition broadly states “to a child’s health or welfare; can occur when any person sets out to harm a child resulting in injury or death,” according to the senate bill 128 (SB128).

At the tail end of last year, several legislative bills were filed pertaining to children. The child abuse bill, SB 128, highlights three issues that are detrimental to child protection. SB 124 sets a new standard on child representation in the judiciary system.

Sen. Aaron Bean, of District 4, involved the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, the Criminal Justice Committee, and the Appropriations committee to review and process these bills.

Before the bills are passed, Carol Preston, Chief Legislative Analyst with the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs comments on processing.

“As a legislative committee, we analyze and make the necessary corrections to the bill once it is sent to us. We are looking at the new definition (harm) and how it impacts the government of Florida as a whole,” Preston said.

The main objective is to allocate rights to children and guidelines to their guardians respectively.

The first issue, “expansion of the list of incidents or injuries,” resulting from car seat and/or seat belt violations, directly impacts parents with children from infant to preteen.

More than 2,000 children under the age of 16 die in car collisions per year as claimed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Criminal Justice Committee’s concern is in the “expansion of the list of incidents or injuries” resulting from car seat and/or seatbelt violations. This allocates the local law enforcement to take action in regard to this new rule. They will need to enforce procedures for officers to follow.

“The appropriations committee will need to be included in the deliberation of this bill as well because it will require fiscal cost if law enforcement is involved” stated by Chief Analyst Preston.

Statistics maintained by Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), states that caseworker turnover has “negative outcomes” for children. Over 160,000 child abuse cases have been investigated according to the CWLA.

In case an incident needs to be reported, the Central Abuse Hotline reports child abuse cases to the Child Protection teams under the Department of Health here in Florida.

According to SB 128, if the Central Abuse Hotline reports a suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect that occurred out of state, the hotline may or may not accept the report or call for investigation.

Senate Bill 124- Dependent Children was approved by the Committee on Children Families and Elder Affairs and is responsible for “specifying the venue in proceedings for the appointment of a guardian for a child who has been a adjudicated dependent.”

As a result, SB 124 authorizes a court to “receive and consider any information provided by the Guardian Ad Litem Program and the child’s attorney ad litem if a child is under the jurisdiction of a dependency court, etc.” This bill aims to allocate fair judgement for minors.

Florida A&M University (FAMU) graduate student, Jasmin Street is an active member in Execution Equals Monumental Change, a non-profit that offers events and programs to better the youth in the Tallahassee and other communities.

Street said that when it come to SB 124, children need a guardian and not a judge.

“Teachers and administration have seen improvements in my mentee since I have started to visit. Her grades and behavior changed because she saw that I was personally invested in seeing her grow, and that she wasn’t a court assignment,” Street said.

Senate meeting minutes provided by Sen. Aaron Bean’s assistant, Dee Alexander, detail SB 124, and its relation to SB128.

While SB 128 reassures child protection in terms of abuse reports and motor vehicle procedures, SB 124 assures that children will be assisted with proper representation in court for both dependent and delinquent children.

To ensure a thorough inspection of these Bills, the Committee’s must analyse their potential needs.

“If the analysis of a bill is not conclusive to the overall goal of child safety, then the bill will be sent back to be revised,” Preston said.

Parents will become aware of these new rules this summer, as the bills will be enacted July 1.