Georgia will no longer maintain its child abuse registry, which launched four years ago to help investigators quickly identify and locate substantiated cases and keep tabs on the scale of the problem.
State lawmakers repealed the law creating the database in June, after agreeing with critics and Rep. Katie Dempsey, a Republican from Rome who sponsored the repeal bill, that the same information contained in the registry is already available elsewhere. More significantly, in practice, the registry hindered efforts to protect children and keep them away from abusers.
“Federal law requires every state to have our child welfare agencies, for child abuse and neglect, to have those records. That already existing case management system is SHINES,” Dempsey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, referencing the state’s comprehensive web-based tool that caseworkers use to help kids and families in the child welfare system.
Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University, lobbied to pass the repeal, the newspaper said. “It worked in such a way that it very much undermined those goals for the system,” Carter said, adding that the registry “had a chilling effect” on efforts to substantiate abuse and neglect allegations.
The registry was counterproductive in at least a couple of ways, according to Carter. First, some parents or guardians whose names were on the registry only landed there, essentially, because they are poor.
For example, an investigator substantiates a report that a single mom couldn’t afford day care, but she had to go to work to put food on the table. So she left a couple of kids at home without adult supervision. The investigator would have no choice but to enter the mother’s name in the registry regardless of the severity of the neglect.
What’s more, being a registrant could prevent someone from fostering, adopting or working with children even if they had satisfied the original concerns of child welfare workers, and despite the fact that a large majority of substantiated cases involve neglect, not abuse.
Carter identified another unintended consequence of the registry: In some of the most heinous cases of abuse or neglect, prosecutors asked that defendants’ names be kept off the registry until after the court process was complete, which could take years.
Carter agreed with Dempsey that there are systems used to keep potential abusers away from kids.
“People who pose an ongoing threat to children shouldn’t be allowed to be operators of day care centers, or be employed as bus drivers or teachers or be approved as foster parents,” she told the Journal-Constitution. But she added: “When you have an arrest history, there are other databases managed by law enforcement that also get checked when you apply for a child care license or to become an adoptive or foster parent. So we absolutely know who those people are.”
Almost all states maintain a statewide centralized database of child abuse and neglect investigation records, according to the U.S. Children’s Bureau, making the dissolution in Georgia all the more noteworthy.
Dissolving the registry is expected to save about $1 million in the first year.