Senator concerned about state child abuse reporting

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Senator concerned about state child abuse reporting

A state senator is raising concerns for a second time about state compliance with reporting on child abuse cases.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, sent a second letter to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Tuesday, asking them to provide information on compliance with 2009 Wisconsin Act 78. The law, passed with a bi-partisan vote in the 2009 legislative session and authored in-part by Jauch, requires the state to publicly disclose information about their investigations into how child abuse cases are handled at the local level. The law provides that DCF issue an initial “notice of child death, serious injury or egregious incident,” and follow-up with a 90-day report on how the case was handled.

Jauch’s original letter was sent June 20, and he has not yet received a response to questions about the issue.

“The fact that you are either unable or unwilling to answer my questions implies that there is a problem more serious than simply not understanding the law or having a different interpretation of the law than the authors,” said Jauch in the letter sent Tuesday.

Jauch claims there have been more than a dozen instances where the Department has failed to provide information within the 90-day requirement on their own decision, and not that of a law enforcement agency or district attorney.

A News 3 analysis of 90-day reports issued by the Department of Children and Families for cases statewide in 2012, 2013 and 2014 shows that there are multiple cases where the department has chosen not to release these reports, making their own determination that release of the information could “jeopardize an ongoing criminal proceeding.”

In 2012, of 111 total reports published to the DCF website, six remain sealed, and two of those show it is by the department’s own decision. The remainder cite a law enforcement or district attorney request to keep information sealed for concern over prosecution of a criminal case.

In 2013, 16 of 119 total reports haven’t been released, and three of them say they are being withheld by the department’s decision.

The number of sealed reports under DCF purview has increased so far in 2014. Of 39 total reports posted, 15 of them have not been released and 12 of them remain sealed by decision of the department. Only three cite law enforcement or a DA request as the reason for delayed posting.

Jauch claims there is no provision in law for DCF to make this decision in the absence of law enforcement or prosecutor’s request.

A spokesman for the Department of Children and families said that state statute restricts the department from making the report public if it would jeopardize an investigation or prosecution. But they say that decision can be made on the advice of law enforcement or a DA or “the Department might also employ other methods in making the determination.” They did not detail what those other methods may be.

The spokesman said they did get Jauch’s letter and are planning to meet with him to discuss his concerns.