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Speight Introduces Legislation to Combat Child Abuse and Neglect during a Public Health Crisis

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent quarantine restrictions raised concerns about children who may be at higher risk of abuse and neglect. Increased family and financial stress, disrupted routines, and lack of access to community supports can all contribute to child maltreatment.

Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex) has introduced legislation to help combat child abuse and neglect during a public health crisis. The bill (A-5419) requires the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Education to establish policies and procedures relating to child abuse and neglect and child abuse prevention during certain public health emergencies.

“Many predicted a drop in reporting of child abuse and neglect cases due to quarantine restrictions, less frequent emergency room visits, and limited access to their teachers and counselors,” said Speight. “There may be no way to confirm a rise in cases while currently in a public health crisis; however, from the work I do each day as a Sherriff Officer I am very sure child abuse and neglect cases are still occurring and are underreported as a result of the pandemic.”

“Children are most vulnerable during public health disasters and emergencies. The physical, financial, and emotional stress of the pandemic are major factors that can contribute to acts of violence and neglect,” continued Speight.  “There has been an increase in domestic violence cases which is another indicator of child abuse. We have to put in place a plan to help children and families who are facing abusive situations during times such as this one.”

The Department of Children and Families will establish policies and procedures to detect and investigate incidents of child abuse and neglect and to promote child abuse prevention techniques that shall be employed for the duration of:

1) the public health emergency declared pursuant to P.L.2005, c.222 (C.26:13-1 et seq.) in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); and

2) each subsequent public health emergency that necessitates the use of social distancing and other restrictions on person-to-person contact.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Women and Children Committee for consideration.