Proposed Rules For Reporting Child Abuse Meet Opposition

Law Enforcement Says Early Intervention By Police Is Needed, Some Social Workers Disagree

Shawn Johnson/WPR

A package of bills aimed at cracking down on parents who abuse or neglect their children is facing stiff opposition from state social workers.

The proposals mandate child welfare workers to report all child abuse and neglect complaints to law enforcement. Attorney General Brad Schimel said if police get involved early, they can prevent abuse from being repeated.

“It’s time for us to provide stronger tools to address physical abuse and neglect of children to break that cycle,” Schimel said.

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The manager of Child Protective Services for Dane County, Julie Ahnen, said social workers share that goal but not how it’s being proposed.

“The way to do that is not through punitive measures,” she said. “Research has shown that change happens through … addressing people’s underlying needs.”

Ahnen said there is a need for more collaboration between child protection workers and police, but the focus should be on providing parents with treatment and support, not making it easier to prosecute them.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, also opposes the idea of having police involved earlier in child abuse investigations. She said too many parents are themselves children of abusive parents who need help to overcome that trauma rather than more punishment. Taylor is also calling for police who work on child abuse cases to get more training in cultural competence so they can deal more effectively with families of color.

The bills have strong support from district attorneys across the state. However, the state public defender’s office is calling for changes in language that they said broadens the definition of abuse and neglect too much, making it easier to convict parents for relatively minor things like failing to make sure their child wears a bicycle helmet when riding in the neighborhood.