Child Abuse Offender Registry Legislation

September 1, 2020

Senate Bills (SB) 289 and 290  would create a publicly available registry of people convicted of child abuse or neglect in the state of Michigan. While the legislation arises from the good intentions to protect children from potential abusers, it in fact does not help prevent abuse and  could exacerbate disproportionate rates within the child welfare system. 

Prevention efforts keep children safe from neglect and abuse, public child abuse offender registries are not an evidence based intervention for child abuse and neglect prevention. The National Research from the Administration for Children and Families shows that parents and caregivers who have support—from family, friends, neighbors, and their communities—are more likely to provide safe and healthy homes for their children. When parents lack this support or feel isolated, they may be more likely to make poor decisions that can lead to neglect or abuse. Basic supports for families such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, and access to essential services like child care and physical and mental health care, are better able to ensure the health and well- being of their children. Additionally, helping support individuals and communities with education regarding healthy relationships is also a protective factor for abuse and neglect. In Michigan, we can invest in child abuse and neglect prevention programs; systems that support families and children;  and robust data collection so we can better understand sources of abuse and disparities.

In addition, there is not sufficient evidence that having a public child abuse registry prevents child abuse or could even diminish it (based on what we know about effects of SORs). Although SORs can increase community awareness of the presence of sex offenders, they can also elevate feelings of fear without improving safety in the community and has not been seen as an early intervention in most cases.                                                                                    

Judge Cleland issued an interim order that portions of the Michigan’s sex offender registry were were deemed unconstitutional. There are complexities around public sex offender registries and have been costly to Michigan residents. Michigan’s registry was the fourth largest state registry in the country, costing taxpayers between $1.2 – $1.5 million each year just on the registration database maintained by the state police’s central registration unit and did not promote public safety.

Potential disparate impacts by race and SES:

According to American Child Welfare Association – there has and continues to be disproportionate reporting and substantiation of child abuse by demographics ACF posits that racial discrimination racial bias and discrimination contributes to disproportionate representation of children of color in the child welfare system (ACF).

The following are implications for prevention and protection of children from abuse and neglect:

Investing in Evidence Based Programming to help promote public safety, and prevent against child abuse and neglect: 

The Children’s Trust Fund supports a statewide network of 73 local councils that fill the critical role of prevention in a full array of services for children and families. The Children’s Trust Fund provides resources to over 20 community direct service programs, which target the needs of the most vulnerable and challenged families is one solution towards ensuring prevention of child abuse and neglect. 

Families Together Building Solutions is an evidence-based service that provides long-term in-home services to support vulnerable families and prevent abuse and neglect. FTBS provides counseling, parenting coaching, housing and budgeting assistance and other services in the family home for up to four months.

Early On is Michigan’s system of early intervention services that assists families with infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months that display developmental delays or have a diagnosed disability. Early On provides assessment, care coordination, in-home therapy and other services to families and young children. Referral to Early On is a requirement for all substantiated CPS cases of children under 3 years.

Infant Mental Health Services provide home-based support and intervention services to families in which the parent’s condition and life circumstances or the characteristics of their infant threaten the parent-infant attachment. Therapeutic interventions support attachment and the consequent social, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development of the infant. The infant mental health specialist provides weekly visits to enrolled families during pregnancy and around the time of birth through 47 months. In FY 2017, over 1,500 young children and their parents were provided this individualized, intensive service.

Community Mental Health Services provide case management, community living supports, respite, home-based intensive mental health services and parent support partners are some of the community-based support services for families who have children with serious emotional disturbance and/or developmental disabilities that can be provided to parents. These supports that are offered by the public mental health system are integral to assisting families who have children with disabilities by supporting parents who are often overwhelmed and beleaguered by the resources that it takes to care for a child with emotional, behavioral or physical health challenges. Respite, for example, is a service that is provided to a caregiver so that he/she can get a much-needed break from caring for a child who has significant needs. According to the national organization known as Prevent Child Abuse, there is evidence that suggests that children with disabilities are more likely than their non-disabled peers to be subjected to abuse and neglect. Finally, community mental health services can help parents to address critical concerns such as housing, food, medical care and treatment, and other social determinants of health that are vitally important.  

Community Mental Health Services can also be provided to parents who struggle with more significant forms of mental illness and substance use disorders. One of the major benefits received from community mental health services is that the services are often community-based, with the mental health professional often meeting with the individual in his/her home or community setting of the individual’s choosing. Parents who are struggling can often benefit from these services, thus reducing the risk for abuse and neglect of their children. 

Strengthen response and intervention systems to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic: 

Too many families struggled to make ends meet before the public health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. The pandemic required major shifts in state funding and there will be continued shifts in legislative and budget priorities. We must support children, families and workers’ recovery from this crisis at every opportunity and ensure residents’ basic needs are met. When basic needs and supports are met we are more likely to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Tracking and Preventing Child Maltreatment Deaths:

Michigan already has a non-public registry of people convicted of child abuse or neglect, called the Michigan Central Registry, established in 1975 as part of the Child Protection Law (MCL 722.638) and  is in the process of finalizing a Comprehensive Statewide Plan to Prevent Child Fatalities. Trusting Child Welfare experts to track efforts in a more effective way can help reduce future fatalities.

Investing in Mental Health  and Mental Health Providers as First Responders:

Michigan Justice Statistics Center School of Criminal Justice Michigan State University provided an analysis on Michigan Incident Crime Reports (Micr) For 2014 And 2015. Between 2014 and 2015 there were 85,636 Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) offenses reported by Michigan law enforcement agencies, affecting 87,904 victims. Of those incidents African American females experienced the highest IPV victimization rates, at a rate of just under 200 per 10,000. The next highest victimization rate was for white females, at just under 50 per 10,000. About 40% of IPV offenses resulted in an arrest, with physical IPV offenses having the highest likelihood of arrest, and intimidation offenses the lowest. IPV victimizations were more common in jurisdictions with higher levels of socioeconomic deprivation and income inequality.

Violent behavior is complex, and can cause harm to children and have long term physical and mental implications for individuals and families. Many things increase or decrease the likelihood of violence. The communities people live in can protect them from violence or can increase their risk of violence. Examples of protective factors are: connection to a caring adult or access to mental health services. Supporting evidence based programs can also prevent IPV. 

Parenting skill and family relationship programs provide parents and caregivers with support and teach communication, problem-solving, positive parenting skills and behavior monitoring and management skills to reduce children’s involvement in crime and violence and later risk of perpetrating IPV. Programs are typically designed for parents and families with children in a specific age range (e.g., preschool and elementary school, middle and/or high school) with the content tailored to the developmental stage of the child.78-81 Programs may be self-directed or delivered to individuals or groups of families. For families at high-risk for conflict and child behavior problems, tailored delivery to individual families yields greater benefits than group administration.

In addition, the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration has recommended: 

  • Expanding training for law enforcement agencies in Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) and other best practices for responding to calls related to domestic violence
  • Expanding supportive services for crime victims and survivors separate from the criminal investigation and prosecution process, including counseling, shelter and transitional housing, and other survivor-centered services.

However, communities of color in particular hold low levels of trust in law enforcement. Mental health providers can help to de-escalate encounters with police and often have better understanding of IPV and child abuse and neglect. Supporting efforts to ensure mental health providers or alternative units of care beyond law enforcement can also help establish more community safety. 

We all agree that we need to further protect our Michigan children from harm, and we can do that through investing in our families so they can have their basic needs met, relaying on evidence based interventions for child abuse and neglect programs from infancy and beyond, expanding efforts to ensure safety from IPV, and establishing better forms of community safety through trust from mental health providers. Starting upstream and not downstream can help prevent future fatalities. However, SB 289-290 promotes fear of detrimental long term effects for those who may enter the system and long term fiscal implications on a strained state budget.