The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill this week to provide more accountability and oversight to child abuse reporting in the wake of the 2019 death of 10-year-old Takoda Collins after what Dayton police say was years of abuse.
House Bill 4 would require children services agencies to disclose confidential information discovered during a child abuse or neglect investigation to federal, state and local government entities, and requires cross-reporting from children services agencies and law enforcement, including written notice of a receipt of report or close of an investigation.
“This bill will protect our vulnerable children and encourage more collaboration in getting them the help they need in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening again,” said state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, one of the bill’s sponsors.
A Dayton Daily News investigation found that Takoda’s death followed reports of concerns by Dayton Public Schools employees and involvement with Dayton police.
Plummer said a lack of communication between Montgomery County Children Services and Dayton police contributed to the tragedy, and this bill makes it clear that county caseworkers and law enforcement not only can — but must — share information about allegations of abuse and neglect.
“We just want more eyes on this so nothing slips through the cracks,” he said.
Another provision in the bill would allow a juvenile court to issue an order authorizing caseworkers to interview a child who may be abused or neglected if the child’s parents refuse to give access to the child.
“This proposed legislation provides a good starting point toward enhanced protection of our most vulnerable and precious citizens,” Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge said. “We know we must have better interagency coordination and cooperation, which would, among other things, authorize children services agencies, in coordination with our courts, proper access to interview children who are suspected victims of child abuse or neglect.”
Montgomery County Director of Job and Family Services Michelle Niedermier said her agency welcomes increased information sharing with law enforcement and others.
“However, for the proposed bill to truly be effective if passed, the state must provide more funding toward child protective services,” she said. “We are already incredibly reliant on limited local Human Services Levy dollars. In order to best meet the needs of the children of Montgomery County, we look to the state to support counties as we face skyrocketing placement costs, and the implementation of multiple state and federal mandated programs.”
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck said HB4 includes some of the recommendations he made last year after reviewing Takoda’s and other local cases of child deaths or serious physical harm.
“I hope that the Ohio Senate follows the lead of the House and quickly passes similar legislation,” he said. “Locally, most, if not all, of my recommendations have been adopted. I believe that there will probably always be room for improvement, but taking action now will help protect the children in our community.”
An amendment to HB4 was added in the House committee that would create a state-level Children Services Ombudsman Program to investigate and resolve concerns and complaints from and on behalf of children and families involved with entities overseeing foster care or the placement of children.
Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi spoke before the House committee on behalf of this provision, saying it was a “critical recommendation” of an advisory council he sits on created by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to improve Ohio’s child welfare systems.
The bill passed the House with a vote of 92-2. The only dissenting votes were state Reps. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, and Thomas Brinkman, R-Mt. Lookout. Neither responded to questions submitted to their offices asking about their vote.
HB 4 will now go to the Ohio Senate for consideration.
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