Kansas Uses Rigorous Evidence Standard for Child Abuse, Neglect

By Gruver, Deb | The Topeka Capital-Journal, September 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Kansas Uses Rigorous Evidence Standard for Child Abuse, Neglect


Gruver, Deb, The Topeka Capital-Journal


WICHITA -- Kansas is the only state in the country that requires clear and convincing evidence to substantiate an allegation of child abuse or neglect.

That standard could be putting children at risk, some in the child welfare field say, The Wichita Eagle reported.

When the Kansas Department for Children and Families substantiates abuse or neglect, it places the perpetrator on a registry that bans him or her from living, working or regularly volunteering in a child-care facility -- including foster homes -- regulated by the state Department of Health and Environment.

No other state requires such a high burden of proof, according to "Child Maltreatment 2012," a study by the Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A survey of states found that most use a preponderance of evidence, a less rigorous standard in which evidence shows it is more likely than not that abuse or neglect occurred.

Kansas used a preponderance of evidence standard until 2004. Since then, it has required clear and convincing evidence that an alleged perpetrator's actions or inactions meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect.

"It is concerning," Diana Schunn, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, said of the higher standard now in place.

"It seems odd to me that all of the investigation and services that are done are focused on the child and when we get to the finding, that focuses on the offender and not so much on the safety of the child," she said.

Brian Dempsey, director of protection and prevention services for the state department, said the department doesn't require a substantiated finding to request a child's removal or to offer services to families.

"Another state may substantiate for the purpose of removing a child from a home or prohibiting someone from fostering children," said spokeswoman Theresa Freed, of state's Department for Children and Families. "Our effort is for the purpose of prohibiting the person from working in a licensed child care facility. It can't be said enough, so the public understands, recommending a child be removed from a home is not the same as substantiating."

But because the state's children and families department substantiates so few cases -- about 6 percent of all reports of child abuse and neglect -- for the purpose of putting people on the registry, the state "could ultimately put children's safety at risk - - not intentionally," Schunn said.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families makes a finding for every report of child abuse and neglect that is assigned to social workers. The finding either is substantiated or unsubstantiated.

The department used to have three categories of findings -- unsubstantiated, substantiated and validated.

The "validated" finding, which was used from 1997 to 2004, meant the incident was severe enough to add the perpetrator's name to the registry. Substantiated meant that the evidence showed the incident occurred but wasn't severe enough to place the person on the registry.

Schunn said she wishes Kansas still had validated as a finding.

"To me, the general public has a presumption that it's unfounded," she said of reports of child abuse deemed unsubstantiated by the DCF. …

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