SENATE, No. 2637

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

217th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED OCTOBER 7, 2016

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  DIANE B. ALLEN

District 7 (Burlington)

Senator  DAWN MARIE ADDIEGO

District 8 (Atlantic, Burlington and Camden)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Senator Beck

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Permits religious institutions to request DCF conduct child abuse record checks of certain prospective and current employees and volunteers.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning regarding child abuse record checks and amending P.L.1977, c.102.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    Section 1 of P.L.1977, c.102 (C.9:6-8.10a) is amended to read as follows:

     1.    a.  All records of child abuse reports made pursuant to section 3 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.10), all information obtained by the Department of Children and Families in investigating such reports including reports received pursuant to section 20 of P.L.1974, c.119 (C.9:6-8.40), and all reports of findings forwarded to the child abuse registry pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.11) shall be kept confidential and may be disclosed only under the circumstances expressly authorized under subsections b., c., d., e., f., and g. herein.  The department shall disclose information only as authorized under subsections b., c., d., e., f., and g. of this section that is relevant to the purpose for which the information is required, provided, however, that nothing may be disclosed which would likely endanger the life, safety, or physical or emotional well-being of a child or the life or safety of any other person or which may compromise the integrity of a department investigation or a civil or criminal investigation or judicial proceeding.  If the department denies access to specific information on this basis, the requesting entity may seek disclosure through the Chancery Division of the Superior Court.  This section shall not be construed to prohibit disclosure pursuant to paragraphs (2) and (7) of subsection b. of this section.

     Nothing in P.L.1977, c.102 (C.9:6-8.10a et seq.) shall be construed to permit the disclosure of any information deemed confidential by federal or State law.

     b.    The department may and upon written request shall release the records and reports referred to in subsection a., or parts thereof, consistent with the provisions of P.L.1997, c.175 (C.9:6-8.83 et al.) to:

     (1)   A public or private child protective agency authorized to investigate a report of child abuse or neglect;

     (2)   A police or other law enforcement agency investigating a report of child abuse or neglect;

     (3)   A physician who has before him a child whom he reasonably suspects may be abused or neglected or an authorized member of the staff of a duly designated regional child abuse diagnostic and treatment center which is involved with a particular child who is the subject of the request;

     (4)   A physician, a hospital director or his designate, a police officer, or other person authorized to place a child in protective custody when such person has before him a child whom he reasonably suspects may be abused or neglected and requires the information in order to determine whether to place the child in protective custody;

     (5)   An agency, whether public or private, including any division or unit in the Department of Human Services or the Department of Children and Families, authorized to care for, treat, assess, evaluate, or supervise a child who is the subject of a child abuse report, or a parent, guardian, resource family parent, or other person who is responsible for the child’s welfare, or both, when the information is needed in connection with the provision of care, treatment, assessment, evaluation, or supervision to such child or such parent, guardian, resource family parent, or other person and the provision of information is in the best interests of the child as determined by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency;

     (6)   A court or the Office of Administrative Law, upon its finding that access to such records may be necessary for determination of an issue before it, and such records may be disclosed by the court or the Office of Administrative Law in whole or in part to the law guardian, attorney, or other appropriate person upon a finding that such further disclosure is necessary for determination of an issue before the court or the Office of Administrative Law;

     (7)   A grand jury upon its determination that access to such records is necessary in the conduct of its official business;

     (8)   Any appropriate State legislative committee acting in the course of its official functions, provided, however, that no names or other information identifying persons named in the report shall be made available to the legislative committee unless it is absolutely essential to the legislative purpose;

     (9)   (Deleted by amendment, P.L.1997, c.175).

     (10) A family day care sponsoring organization for the purpose of providing information on child abuse or neglect allegations involving prospective or current providers or household members pursuant to P.L.1993, c.350 (C.30:5B-25.1 et seq.) and as necessary, for use in administrative appeals related to information obtained through a child abuse registry search;

     (11) The Victims of Crime Compensation Board, for the purpose of providing services available pursuant to the “Criminal Injuries Compensation Act of 1971,” P.L.1971, c.317 (C.52:4B-1 et seq.) to a child victim who is the subject of such report;

     (12) Any person appealing a department service or status action or a substantiated finding of child abuse or neglect and his attorney or authorized lay representative upon a determination by the department or the presiding Administrative Law Judge that such disclosure is necessary for a determination of the issue on appeal;

     (13) Any person or entity mandated by statute to consider child abuse or neglect information when conducting a background check or employment-related screening of an individual employed by or seeking employment with an agency or organization providing services to children;

     (14) Any person or entity conducting a disciplinary, administrative, or judicial proceeding to determine terms of employment or continued employment of an officer, employee, or volunteer with an agency or organization providing services for children.  The information may be disclosed in whole or in part to the appellant or other appropriate person only upon a determination by the person or entity conducting the proceeding that the disclosure is necessary to make a determination;

     (15) The members of a county multi-disciplinary team, established in accordance with State guidelines, for the purpose of coordinating the activities of agencies handling alleged cases of child abuse and neglect;

     (16) A person being evaluated by the department or the court as a potential care-giver to determine whether that person is willing and able to provide the care and support required by the child;

     (17) The legal counsel of a child, parent, or guardian, whether court-appointed or retained, when information is needed to discuss the case with the department in order to make decisions relating to or concerning the child;

     (18) A person who has filed a report of suspected child abuse or neglect for the purpose of providing that person with only the disposition of the investigation;

     (19) A parent, resource family parent, or legal guardian when the information is needed in a department matter in which that parent, resource family parent, or legal guardian is directly involved.  The information may be released only to the extent necessary for the requesting parent, resource family parent, or legal guardian to discuss services or the basis for the department’s involvement or to develop, discuss, or implement a case plan for the child;

     (20) A federal, State, or local government entity, to the extent necessary for such entity to carry out its responsibilities under law to protect children from abuse and neglect;

     (21) Citizen review panels designated by the State in compliance with the federal “Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Amendments of 1996,” Pub.L.104-235;

     (22) The Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board established pursuant to P.L.1997, c.175 (C.9:6-8.83 et al.); [or] or

     (23) Members of a family team or other case planning group formed by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency and established in accordance with regulations adopted by the Commissioner of Children and Families for the purpose of addressing the child’s safety, permanency, or well-being, when the provision of such information is in the best interests of the child as determined by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Any individual, agency, board, court, grand jury, legislative committee, or other entity which receives from the department the records and reports referred to in subsection a., shall keep the records and reports, or parts thereof, confidential and shall not disclose the records and reports or parts thereof except as authorized by law.

     c.     The department may share information with a child who is the subject of a child abuse or neglect report, as appropriate to the child’s age or condition, to enable the child to understand the basis for the department’s involvement and to participate in the development, discussion, or implementation of a case plan for the child.

     d.    The department may release the records and reports referred to in subsection a. of this section to any person engaged in a bona fide research purpose, provided, however, that no names or other information identifying persons named in the report shall be made available to the researcher unless it is absolutely essential to the research purpose and provided further that the approval of the Commissioner of Children and Families or his designee shall first have been obtained.

     e.     For incidents determined by the department to be substantiated, the department shall forward to the police or law enforcement agency in whose jurisdiction the child named in the report resides, the identity of persons alleged to have committed child abuse or neglect and of victims of child abuse or neglect, their addresses, the nature of the allegations, and other relevant information, including, but not limited to, prior reports of abuse or neglect and names of siblings obtained by the department during its investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect.  The police or law enforcement agency shall keep such information confidential.

     f.     The department may disclose to the public the findings or information about a case of child abuse or neglect which has resulted in a child fatality or near fatality.  Nothing may be disclosed which would likely endanger the life, safety, or physical or emotional well-being of a child or the life or safety of any other person or which may compromise the integrity of a department investigation or a civil or criminal investigation or judicial proceeding.  If the department denies access to specific information on this basis, the requesting entity may seek disclosure of the information through the Chancery Division of the Superior Court.  No information may be disclosed which is deemed confidential by federal or State law.  The name or any other information identifying the person or entity who referred the child to the department shall not be released to the public.

     g.    The department shall release the records and reports referred to in subsection a. of this section to a unified child care agency contracted with the department pursuant to N.J.A.C.10:15-2.1 for the purpose of providing information on child abuse or neglect allegations involving a prospective approved home provider or any adult household member pursuant to section 2 of P.L.2003, c.185 (C.30:5B-32) to a child’s parent when the information is necessary for the parent to make a decision concerning the placement of the child in an appropriate child care arrangement.

     h.    An organization operated primarily for religious purposes may request that the Department of Children and Families conduct a check of its child abuse records to determine if an incident of child abuse or neglect has been substantiated pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.11) against any prospective or current employee or volunteer who may have access to, or provide instruction or other services to, children.

     The department shall not release any information that would likely endanger the life, safety, or physical or emotional well-being of a child or the life or safety of any other person.

(cf: P.L.2012, c.16, s.22)

 

     2.    This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill would permit religious institutions to request that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) conduct a check of its child abuse records to determine if an incident of child abuse or neglect has been substantiated pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1974, c.437 (C.9:6-8.11) against any prospective or current employee or volunteer who may have access to, or provide instruction or other services to, children.

     Current law specifies the circumstances under which DCF is authorized to disclose to certain entities records and reports of child abuse, information obtained by DCF in investigating such reports, and reports of findings that are forwarded to the State child abuse registry.  Religious institutions are not included among the entities to which DCF is permitted to disclose this information, as was recently noted in an opinion of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, decided April 5, 2013, in New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. P.H. and J.C., 2013 N.J. Super. LEXIS 52.