(TRENTON) — Legislation Assembly members Angel Fuentes and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to protect New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities from abusive caregivers has received final legislative approval.
“One of government’s primary objectives is to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” said Fuentes (D-Camden), a member of the committee. “Creating a registry of abusive caregivers will allow us to better protect individuals who must rely on the care of others to survive.”
Under the Fuentes/Vainieri Huttle bill (A-2038), the state Department of Human Services (DHS) would be required to create a “Central Registry of Offenders Against Individuals with Developmental Disabilities,” which would identify those caregivers who have wrongfully caused injury — abuse, neglect or exploitation — to a developmentally disabled individual.
The Assembly approved the bill 75-0 on Thursday. It was previously approved by the Senate and now goes to the governor.
The bill defines a caregiver as “a person employed or volunteering in a program, facility, community care residence or living arrangement licensed or funded by DHS, or a person providing community-based services with indirect State funding to an individual with a developmental disability.”
Anyone suspecting abuse of a developmentally disabled individual would be required to file a report with DHS, via an emergency phone service created expressly for this purpose.
The report would be required to contain the name and address of the disabled individual, the name and address of the individual’s caregiver or guardian, the identity of the alleged offender and any other pertinent information about the developmentally disabled individual. Purposely failing to report an act of abuse against a developmentally disabled individual would be considered a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
“This registry will help root out abusive caregivers who may currently be flying under the radar,” said Vainieri Huttle, the Assembly Human Services chairwoman. “While we know it can be difficult to care for an individual with developmental disabilities, we must send a clear, strong message that abuse of these individuals will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”
The bill would require DHS to maintain a unit to receive and prioritize all abuse reports, initiate appropriate responses, alert appropriate staff and ensure that findings from the reports are issued in a uniform and timely manner. Additionally, upon receipt of a report, DHS would be required to take immediate actions to ensure the safety of the disabled individual. DHS also would be required to create a Special Response Unit (SRU) to provide for an investigation of a reported incident to substantiate or refute an allegation of abuse by a caregiver as well as to investigate serious incidents in facilities or community programs licensed, contracted or regulated by the agency.
In order to be added to the registry, a report of abuse would have to be substantiated and a caregiver would have had to:
- Acted with intent, recklessness or careless disregard to cause or potentially cause injury;
- Acted with gross negligence, recklessness or in a pattern of behavior that causes or potentially causes harm; or
- Exploited an individual in excess of a DHS established dollar amount.
In the course of its investigation, the SRU would be required to notify the caregiver of the possibility of inclusion in the registry and give him or her the opportunity to respond to the allegation.
The DHS would be required to adopt rules and regulations:
- Providing for an appeals process, through the “Administrative Procedure Act,” by which a caregiver could appeal the department’s determination to include him or her on the registry;
- Concerning the dissemination of information contained in the registry;
- Prohibiting individuals included in the registry from employment in facilities or programs of the DHS and those licensed, contracted or regulated by DHS; and
- Providing for the removal of a person’s name from the central registry after five years and having demonstrated to DHS clear and convincing evidence of rehabilitation.
Information included on the registry would not be considered a public document or government record and could only be disclosed under circumstances expressly authorized by the rules and regulations of DHS. Individuals making a report would be protected from any civil or criminal liability under the bill. The registry would go into effect 180 days after the bill’s enactment.
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