GOP lawmakers who sounded alarm on child abuse loophole renew calls to post bill following state agency shortcomings
TRENTON, N.J. – In July 2022, Assemblywomen Marilyn Piperno, Kim Eulner and Aura Dunn wrote to the Assembly Women and Children Committee chair to request her immediate support and consideration of a bill that would expand the definition of child abuse to ensure the state’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency appropriately responds to all reports. The lawmakers are once again urgently seeking legislative action following the state comptroller’s report that confirmed the agency failed to investigate certain cases of child abuse and assault after an unwritten policy change.
“Innocent children have been abused and traumatized instead of safeguarded and supervised. The state agency charged with protecting New Jersey’s most vulnerable children cannot let anyone slip through the system. This is why it is so critical to expand the definition of child abuse in statute,” Piperno (R-Monmouth) said.
Without informing law enforcement or social service providers, the Department of Children and Families stopped investigating allegations of child-on-child sexual activity and child abuse by non-caregivers. During a five-month period after the policy change, at least 123 children were reportedly involved in inappropriate sexual activity, including child-on-child sexual assaults. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency did not investigate or assess any of the cases, but instead referred the families to other providers so they could seek out services on their own.
“The agency refuses to accept responsibility and denies there is a problem while families are crying out for help and police officers are scrambling to arrange support services,” Eulner (R-Monmouth) said. “Fewer children in protective services doesn’t mean there is less abuse, it means the agency is abdicating its duties and perpetuating a cycle of abuse.”
From 2018, when Gov. Phil Murphy appointed commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer to oversee the agency, to 2021, the number of children supervised by the state declined by more than 16,000 to 32,100 from 48,400. The number of children removed from their homes and placed into foster care also dropped 42% over that period to 3,200 kids.
“I do not know how the governor or the commissioner sleeps at night,” Dunn (R-Morris) said. “Those who have already fallen through the cracks may never recover and that should weigh heavily on the heart and mind of this administration. Without changes, more children will suffer and fewer will receive the
necessary therapy. We must act now.”
The bill (A4247) expands the definition of child abuse or neglect to include acts at the hands of, or permitted by, someone who is not the child’s parent or legal guardian, including another child under the age of 18.
Both the Assembly bill and its Senate version (S3253) are awaiting a committee hearing.