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Bill aimed at DCS records, near death abuse case

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Posted at 7:21 PM, Dec 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-23 19:21:32-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- State lawmakers will consider a bill this session aimed at better shining the light on child abuse and neglect cases in Indiana.

Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend) filed Senate Bill 131 which is intended to further define “near fatality” for the purposes of records relating to a child’s death or near death.

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When a child dies as a result of abuse or neglect, the media and the public can request access to Indiana Department of Child Services records to better understand what the agency did or didn’t know leading up to the death.

The media and the public may also be able to obtain records in a “near fatality,” as was the case with Joetta and Steve Sells whose granddaughter was found starving, malnourished and weighing only 40 pounds.

DCS Records obtained by Call 6 Investigates showed in 2011, the Indiana Department of Child Services investigated Steve and Joetta Sells of Anderson for child neglect, but did not find enough evidence to substantiate a case against the couple.

Broden said DCS records can be critical to learning more about how to prevent child abuse and neglect deaths.

The senator told Call 6 Investigates the current definition of “near fatality” is meaningless.

Senate Bill 131 would change the definition to a “severe childhood injury or condition that is certified by a physician as being life threatening.”

The legislation also defines life threatening as being categorized as “serious” or “critical” in hospital records or if the condition results in critical care treatment for at least 24 hours following a child’s admission to a critical care unit. “It certainly broadens what we have,” said Broden.

Broden said he’s aware of public records requests that have been denied because they did not meet the definition of “near fatality.”

“The judge denied it, and interpreted the law correctly, but I think the law itself needs to change,” said Broden.

The law requires that DCS assessment files be kept confidential, unless the children can be classified as “near fatality” cases as defined by federal law or DCS policy, according to John Wood, Deputy General Counsel for DCS.

If the case meets certain criteria, DCS sends the files to the juvenile court for review and ultimately be released to the public.

The bill has been assigned to the Family and Children Services Committee. Sen. Ron Grooms (R-New Albany) is the chairman of the committee.

“It is a bill very worthy of consideration,” said Grooms. “It will probably be heard in committee.”

Similar legislation failed to get a hearing last year because the committee ran out of time, according to Grooms.
 

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