The Wisconsin Assembly unanimously passed a bill January 19 that directs the state’s child protective services agency to set clear standards for interacting with children with disabilities when they are suspected of being the subject of child abuse or neglect.
Since 2010, 15 children with disabilities have died within the capacity of the state Department of Children and Families. In almost all these cases, the agency received repeated complaints, but failed to adequately respond because the child lacked the ability to describe the alleged abuse or neglect, or otherwise were unlikely to make a good trial witnesses.
“Kids with autism, kids with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities will have a hard time explaining what happened to them. Sometimes they have very little speech,” said Lisa Pugh, public policy coordinator with Disability Rights Wisconsin,which testified in support of the bill, in a video that aired on Fox 6 on January 7.
Under Assembly Bill 667, investigators would be required in all cases to inquire as to whether the subject child has a disability.
The Department would also be required to create procedures for identifying and addressing specific categories of disabilities, ensure Americans with Disabilities Act compliance in its practice, and create tailored interviewing strategies for these children, among other requirements.
The Department would have until January 2017 to create a model policy. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.
“We want to make sure that all children receive the level of safety and protection that they deserve,” Rep. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), who sponsored the bill with Rep. Joel Kleefisch, (R-Oconomowoc), told the Wisconsin Capital Times.
Disability Rights Wisconsin and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Wisconsin and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.