It seems fitting that my first blog post of the 2016 calendar year addresses a new law that became effective on January 1st. S.L. 2015-123 is “An Act to Transition Abuse and Neglect Investigations in Child Care Facilities to the Division of Child Development and Early Education [DCDEE] within the Department of Health and Human Services” (DHHS). In a nutshell, county child welfare agencies (county departments) retain responsibility for screening and assessing reports of suspected child abuse, neglect, and dependency by a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker but are no longer responsible for screening and assessing reports of suspected abuse and neglect of a child in a child care facility. As a result, petitions filed in district court by a county department that allege a child has been abused or neglected will no longer be based on circumstances created in a child care facility. Instead, the DCDEE has assumed responsibility for investigating suspected child maltreatment occurring in a child care facility. These investigations are a component of DCDEE’s licensure procedures and requirements. S.L. 2015-123 sets forth the new process in Article 7 of G.S. Chapter 110.
Child care facilities include all facilities or locations where children are cared for that require a license under G.S. Chapter 110, Article 7 and all religious sponsored facilities, including summer day camps, operating under G.S. 110-106. G.S. 110-105.3(b)(2). There are two new terms to know:
- Caregiver, which is defined as an operator of a licensed or religious-sponsored child care facility, a child care provider employed by a facility, a volunteer, or a person with approval of a child care provider to assume responsibility for a child under the provider’s care. G.S. 110-105.3(b)(1). Note that the definition of “caretaker” for purposes of a child abuse, neglect, and dependency case no longer includes a caregiver in its definition. SeeS. 7B-101(3).
- Child Maltreatment, which is defined as “any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.” G.S. 110-105.3(b)(3). Statutory examples of such acts include physical, sexual, or psychological abuse; the failure to provide for the physical, emotional or medical well-being of child; or the failure to properly supervise children which results in a child’s exposure to a potentially harmful environment. Id. Note that the definition of “child maltreatment” differs from the definitions of “abuse” or “neglect” found in the Juvenile Code, which are based on conditions created by a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker. SeeS. 7B-101(1) & (15).
Making a Report
As with suspected child abuse, neglect, and dependency, there is a universal mandated reporting statute for child maltreatment. Any person who has cause to suspect a child in a child care facility has been maltreated must make a report to DCDEE. G.S. 110-105.4. The report can be made in writing or by calling (919) 527-6500 or 1-800-859-0829. There does not appear to be an afterhours (nights and weekends) contact number for DCDEE. An individual may wait until normal business hours to call the DCDEE or call a county department or local law enforcement after regular business hours. If a county department receives a report of suspected child maltreatment in a child care facility, it must notify the DCDEE within 24 hours (or on the next working day) of receiving the report. G.S. 7B-307.
Contents of Report
If known to the reporter, the report should include the name and address of both the child care facility and the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian; the child’s age; the child’s whereabouts if the child is not at home; the nature and extent of any injuries or conditions caused by the maltreatment; and any other information the reporter believes will be helpful in an investigation. G.S. 110-105.4(a). A reporter should give his or her name, address, and telephone number, but refusing to do so will not preclude an investigation. Id.
Receipt of Report
DCDEE must make a prompt and thorough assessment of a report, which includes an unannounced inspection of the child care facility within 7 days of when the DCDEE receives a report of alleged child maltreatment. G.S. 110-105(a), 110-105.3(d). If the child care facility refuses to allow an inspection, the department may seek an administrative warrant. G.S. 110-105(b); 15-27.2. If the report alleges a child’s sexual abuse in a child care facility, DCDEE must notify the State Bureau of Investigation within 24 hours or the next working day. G.S. 110-105.4(b).
Interagency Collaboration: DCDEE, County Departments, Local Law Enforcement
G.S. 110-105.3(a) recognizes that a proper investigation of suspected child maltreatment in a child care facility requires cooperation between the State DCDEE, local law enforcement, and county departments. If a county department receives a report, it must notify DCDEE. A county department may share this information under G.S. 110-105.3(l), 110-105.4 (as a mandated reporter itself), 7B-302(a1)(1), and 7B-307. If DCDEE receives a report that includes misdemeanor or felony child abuse, it must notify local law enforcement so that law enforcement may conduct the investigation. G.S. 110-105.3(d)
Action During the Investigation
The DCDEE may issue a protection plan during an investigation. Protection plans may involve restricting the individual who is alleged to have maltreated a child from being on the child care facility’s premises, or suspending activities at a facility, such as field trips and transportation. G.S. 110-105.3(e). The DCDEE may also order immediate corrective action (including temporarily suspending the facility’s license in emergency situations) when the action is necessary to protect the health, safety, or welfare of children at the facility. G.S. 110-105.3(f) & (g).
Confidentiality and Findings
During an investigation, all information is confidential, unless a court or administrative order authorizes a disclosure or the DCDEE discloses information to a government entity to protect a child from maltreatment, abuse, or neglect (i.e., county department, local law enforcement). G.S. 110-105.3(i) & (j). See also G.S. 110-105.3(k). If findings of maltreatment are substantiated, those findings shall be public, along with the date(s) of visits to the facility and the corrective action plan (if applicable). Id.
A finding of child maltreatment is a violation of the licensure standards and laws for child care facilities and may result in administrative action that ranges from a correction action plan to suspension or revocation of the facility’s license. G.S. 110-105.6.
The New Child Maltreatment Registry
There is now a Child Maltreatment Registry (CMR) that is maintained by DHHS, which is in addition to the Responsible Individual List and the Central Registry (child abuse, neglect, and dependency). See G.S. 7B-311, 110-105.5. The CMR consists of the names of caregivers who have been found to have maltreated a child and who did not timely appeal or unsuccessfully challenged his or her placement on the list in an administrative appeal. G.S. 105.5(a) & (b). An individual who is listed on the CMR cannot be a caregiver at any licensed or religious-sponsored child care facility. G.S. 105.5(c). The names of the caregivers who are listed in the CMR are public records. G.S. 105.5(f). Any one may submit a public request form for information about whether a specific individual is on the CMR.