According to a transcript of that call, the two school administrators said they had called the youth center where the girl lived.
“Given that the child is 16, this is something I believe that we would probably refer to law enforcement, I’m not sure if that has been done yet or not,” the DCS worker says.
“No,” Smith replies.
“Would you like me to contact them or would you like to contact them?” the DCS employee asks.
“We are going to contact them,” the other administrator replies.
Later in the call, the DCS employee says, “Like I said, this looks like something we are going to screen out on our end but it is something that we would probably go ahead and forward to law enforcement so if you are saying that is something you guys will do...”
“Yeah,” Smith says.
“... then I’ll just make a note of that in this report,” the worker finishes.
Yet, according to a court brief Hoffman wrote later, “The Defendant nor anyone else contacted law enforcement.”
Hoffman was pleased with the message the judge delivered in the rare prosecution of failure to report abuse.
“If there is one thing to take away from this case, it is that the failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect will not be tolerated by the Delaware County prosecutor’s office,” he wrote in an e-mailed statement Friday. “We all as citizens have an absolute duty to report to the proper authorities child abuse and neglect.”
‘Nothing really black and white’
But Hoffman also thinks statutes about DCS’ role in reporting to law enforcement need some clarification, and he worked with a state prosecutors group during the 2011 General Assembly in a defeated attempt to tweak state law.
Current law says of DCS, “Upon the receipt of each report under this chapter of known or suspected child abuse, the department shall contact the law enforcement agency in the appropriate jurisdiction."
But the definition of child abuse or under what circumstances a child may be declared a Child in Need of Services is at issue, says Suzanne O’Malley, assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
O’Malley, a former Marion County prosecutor for 15 years specializing in sex crimes, says laws now include loopholes that include only adult-on-child sexual assaults, for instance. But reporters of abuse or neglect are also seeking help for children who might not technically meet strict CHINS guidelines.
She says DCS Director James Payne strongly opposed and successfully fought the proposed amendments last year.
“DCS was concerned they were going to get more cases that in their eyes aren’t theirs,” she says.
Toward the end of this year’s General Assembly session, newspaper reports about DCS controversies prompted Democrats to propose a number of amendments to DCS-related bills. Republicans shot down most of those efforts.
But in the end, a summer study committee was established to examine several DCS-related issues, including how well the centralized call center is working.
O’Malley says cooperation between law enforcement agencies and DCS seemed quicker and more efficient when calls were taken at a county level.
“I think prosecutors would like to see that type of working together restored,” she says.
Yet, she points out: “Legislation is so hard, because nothing is really black and white in child abuse.”
Contact Virginia Black:
Sharing concerns about children
Cases raise questions about how police are alerted to possible abuse
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