Child-Abuse Conference Planned : State Legislators to Gather Nationwide Panel of Experts

Times Staff Writer

Sen. Diane Watson announced plans Tuesday for a national conference on child abuse to help federal and state lawmakers formulate ideas to combat child abuse.

The Los Angeles Democrat's announcement of the April conference in Sacramento follows the introduction of nearly 20 child abuse-related measures this year in the Senate and Assembly, where the issue has been pushed to the top of the legislative agenda.

"There has been widespread concern that we have been moving too hastily in enacting measures which might be unconstitutional or harmful to innocent (individuals) or accusers," Watson said. "We need to hear from the experts."

Watson said her office will be sending out invitations to leading authorities on child abuse throughout the nation, including law enforcement officials, psychologists and educators, for the April 25-27 conference.

The goal, Watson said, is to give lawmakers an overall view of the problem and then help them develop ideas for legislative strategies over the next decade.

Watson was joined at a Capitol press conference by Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) and Assem blyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower), all of whom are co-sponsoring the child abuse conference.

Also among the co-sponsors are Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), Gov. George Deukmejian, Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy and Margaret Heckler, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Vicencia echoed Watson in saying that California "is the natural place" for the conference because of the alleged abuse that occurred at the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach. He called the scheduled conference "the most progressive effort that's been made" in the area of child abuse.

Van de Kamp stressed the importance of prevention in the area of child abuse, citing legislation recently introduced by Roberti that focuses on increased funding for child-care facilities.

He added that his office has consulted with the state Department of Social Services to ensure "better inspection and to basically keep the heat on so that those who operate child-care facilities, the overwhelming majority of whom are doing a good job, know that someone's looking over their shoulder. We're hoping that we can establish an attitude . . . to make sure child care here is of top quality."

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