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Vainieri Huttle & Schaer Bill Package to Protect Children & Adults with Developmental Disabilities OK’d by Assembly Panel

Bills put measures in place to better address reports of abuse and neglect against children and adults with developmental disabilities in state licensed facilities

(TRENTON) – A legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gary S. Schaer to better protect children and adults with development disabilities from potential abuse and neglect from caregivers was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bills (A-1109) and (A-3619) are intended to encourage caregivers, supervisors, and managers of facilities, as well as the appropriate funding, licensing, regulatory, and law enforcement agencies to protect individuals with developmental disabilities, by providing for more transparency in incident reporting and investigations, the reporting of incidents in a more timely manner, and an environment that does not tolerate abuse, neglect, or exploitation of individuals with disabilities.

The bill (A-1109), designated as “Stephen Komninos’ Law”, honors the memory of Stephen, an individual with developmental disabilities who tragically died at the age of 22. Stephen was a non-verbal young man who was very sociable and suffered through many substantiated incidents of abuse and neglect. The second bill (A-3619), designated “Tyler Banuls’ Law”, honors Tyler Banuls, an autistic teen who endured abuse by peers and neglect by the public entities charged with his care.

“The Komninos family suffered the ultimate loss, the tragic death of their son. The purpose of these bills is to spare other families from what the Komninos family has experienced,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “These bills put protections in place to help uncover any incidents of abuse or neglect before they end in tragedy, and ensure that these incidents are addressed as swiftly as possible and those responsible are held accountable.”

“Sadly, the people most in need of our help and compassion are often considered easy targets for abuse and maltreatment,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “What these families endured was tragic and avoidable. The provisions in these bills help ensure that facilities that are charged with helping one of our most vulnerable populations don’t actually end up causing the most damage.”

The bills (A-1109) and (A-3619) help protect and ensure accountability and transparency for adults and children with developmental disabilities by mandating unannounced site visits, increasing punishment for certain crimes, and giving guardians or family members the right to attend or observe any investigation by the appropriate state agencies in cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation, and in the case of an individual who is underage, the ability to represent the child in said investigation.

The bills require the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Children and Families (DCH) to each conduct at least three unannounced site visits annually to check whether the individuals with development disabilities who are receiving services from a state licensed facility are at risk of being abused or being subjected to abuse, neglect or exploitation by a caregiver.

Both bills also make the failure of a case manager or the case manager’s supervisor to report an act of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult or a child, when there is reasonable cause to believe such an act has been committed, a fourth degree crime. If the incident results in death, the offending individual would be guilty of a third degree crime.

The bill (A-1109) requires DHS to report incidents of abuse, neglect or exploitation to the guardian or authorized family members of an individual with a developmental disability as soon as possible, but no later than 24 hours after the injury has occurred. Within 48 hours of receiving a report of an incident involving physical injury, abuse or neglect, DHS would be required to send an employee to the location of the reported incident to verify the level of severity of the incident. Both DHS and the individual’s family member may involve local and state law enforcement officials in the investigation.

The bill (A-1109) also requires DHS to adopt rules and regulations that must be followed when investigating allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation, including the creation of a Special Response Unit to investigate serious unusual incidents, and allowing a guardian or authorized family member to submit information helpful to the investigation, as well as attend or observe the investigation.

Under the bill (A-1109), DHS must also adopt rules and regulations that define the procedures and standards for inclusion of an offending caregiver on the Central Registry of Offenders.

The second bill (A-3619) requires DCF employees conducting site visits to immediately report to DCF if they have reasonable cause to believe a child is subject to abuse by a staff member of the facility. Under the bill, incidents of abuse must be reported to the guardian or authorized family member of the child as soon as possible, but no later than 24 hours after the abuse has occurred.

The abuse must also be reported to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, per the bill (A-3619). Within 24 hours of getting the report, an investigator from the Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit (IAIU) within DCF would be sent to investigate the severity level of the report.

In consultation with the IAIU investigator, relatives of the child may involve local and state law enforcement officials. The family would also have the opportunity to submit information, be informed of the progress and represent the child in the investigation. Once complete, DCF would notify the family of any action taken to remediate any condition that may have contributed to the abuse.

The bills were released by the Assembly Human Services Committee, which is chaired by Vainieri Huttle.