An Assembly panel has approved legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton expanding the state’s authority to intercede if a current or prospective employee or volunteer of a religious organization has a history of child abuse or neglect.
“This is a matter of semantics standing in the way of greater protections for our children,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “An appellate court ruling in April exposed an oversight in our current laws that this measure will help fix, giving the state the authority to inform religious organizations if a known child abuser or predator is looking to work or volunteer for them.”
Specifically, the bill (A-962) 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 against any prospective or current employee or volunteer who may have access to, or provide instruction or other services to, children.
Current law authorizes the Division of Child Protection and Permanency in DCF to disclose to certain entities, such as law enforcement agencies, physicians, daycare centers, the 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.
However, religious institutions are not included among the entities to which DCF is permitted to disclose this information.
This was recently noted in an April opinion issued by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court in the case of New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. P.H. and J.C., which has prompted Singleton’s legislation.
The case involved a man who had been found to have abused and neglected his two children and later applied for a job as a youth pastor. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), now known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, petitioned the court to release information to the church that sexual abuse allegations against him had been substantiated.
The trial court allowed DYFS to send the notification, but the appellate division reversed this decision in April. The measure approved today will help rectify this discrepancy.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.