Missouri KidsFirst successfully advocates at the state and federal levels for policies and funding for programs that protect children from abuse and prioritize their safety and well-being. Each year, we testify in public hearings and engage in meetings with lawmakers and advocacy partners. We are proud to advocate on behalf of Missouri children to improve the way our systems respond to child abuse and neglect.
2021 Legislative Updates: (Subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of the page)
For more information about Missouri KidsFirst’s public policy activities, please contact:
Jessica Seitz, Interim Executive Director
2021 MISSOURI KIDSFIRST LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP
The First Regular session of the 101st Missouri General Assembly adjourned on May 14, 2021. This year resulted in many legislative wins to protect children, including Missouri KidsFirst’s top priority, the Residential Care Facility Notification Act which would provide minimum protections for children living in unlicensed residential facilities. This issue has been a concern for child advocates for decades and was long overdue. The Act passed with wide bipartisan support, including unanimous support in the House.
This year, several Missouri KidsFirst priorities were truly agreed and finally passed (TAFPd), including legislation which would:
- Improve protections for children in unlicensed residential facilities (HB 557/560);
- Create unpaid leave from work for employees who are household or family members of victims of child abuse to help their children seek victims services, including at a child advocacy center and for employees who are victims of domestic and sexual violence (HB 432, originally proposed in SB 16);
- Codify uniformity for parent notification for seclusion and restraint policies (HB 432, originally proposed in HB 387);
- Establish the Birth Match Program which requires data sharing between the Children’s Division and Department of Health and Senior Services by offering early intervention and services to families identified as high risk of maltreatment (HB 432); and
- Clarify provisions to allow adolescent victims of abuse (ages 14-17) to be referred to a SAFE-CARE provider if they present at a hospital where there is not one on staff (HB 432, originally proposed in HB 1179).
Finally, appropriations bills passed that maintain current funding for agencies and programs that serve children who have been victims of abuse and neglect and that work to prevent child abuse.
Missouri KidsFirst’s Top Priority, the “Residential Care Facility Notification Act” passes with resounding support in the Missouri legislature.
In September 2020, the Kansas City Star released the first article in what would become a months-long series that is still ongoing detailing horrific cases of physical and sexual abuse at a several unlicensed boarding schools throughout southern Missouri. When reports revealed loopholes in child protection law allowing schools to remain open despite numerous substantiated reports of abuse, lawmakers immediately called for actions to be taken. On May 13, legislators passed and sent the governor House Bill 557/560, legislation that will improve protections for children living in unlicensed boarding schools.
Lack of oversight of unlicensed boarding schools, or youth residential facilities, has been an issue of concern for Missouri child advocates for decades. However, the last time the legislature tried unsuccessfully to take action was over twenty years ago. Under a statute that has been on the books since 1982, Missouri has a full religious exemption from any oversight, though no documentation is required to claim the exemption. According to a review by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only six states have formal license exemptions for religious-based youth residential facilities, and Missouri is one of just two states that require no additional regulations or licensing to operate these facilities.
Sponsored by Representatives Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville) and Keri Ingle (D-Lee’s Summit), HB 557/560 provides minimum protections for children living in unlicensed residential facilities to help keep kids in Missouri safe from abuse and to ensure predators are not shielded due to lack of oversight. There are three main issues HB 557/560 addresses:
- NOTIFICATION: Knowing where these residential care facilities are. Right now, these facilities are allowed to operate in darkness. There is no centralized way to collect and house information and no state agency has oversight authority. HB 557/560 requires registration with the state and for the Department of Social Services to maintain a list of all residential care facilities
- SAFETY CHECKS: Requiring facilities to meet minimal health and safety standards, including background checks and allowing regulators to check the safety and well-being of children. HB 557/560 also allows the Children’s Division to petition the court for an order directing a facility to present a child subject to an abuse and neglect investigation, and any other children living in the facility if they are suspected to be in danger, for an assessment of a child’s health, safety and well-being.
- AUTHORITY TO CLOSE FACILITIES FOR NON-COMPLIANCE: Establishing a mechanism to shut these facilities down if they fail to comply with the minimum notification requirements. Under HB 557/560, failure to comply with the law—operating without notification—could ultimately result in the removal of children or a facility being shut down. This shall only be initiated if the facility is providing care without notification, failing to comply with minimum standards including background checks or an immediate health, safety or welfare concern for the children at the facility
HB 557/560 helps to ensure Missouri is no longer a haven for people who harm children. Special thanks to Missouri KidsFirst champions Rudy Veit, Keri Ingle and Sen Bill White. We also thank the Kansas City Star’s Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas for their extensive coverage of this issue, shining a light on a broken system. But most of all, we want to thank the courageous survivors who shared their experiences with lawmakers and urged them to take action. Their voices empowered lawmakers to act.
HB 557/560 was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson on July 14, 2021. Read Missouri KidsFirst’s press release on the bill signing: “Governor Parson signs bill aimed at addressing abuse in unlicensed youth residential facilities“.
OTHER PRIORITIES “Truly Agreed to and Finally Passed”
Unpaid leave for employees who are household or family members of victims of child abuse to help children seek victims’ services, including at a child advocacy center and for employees who are domestic and sexual violence. This legislation, known as the Missouri Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA), had been introduced multiple times to allow unpaid leave to be taken by victims of domestic and sexual violence. This year we worked to expand the bill for the first time to include employees who are household or family members of victims of child abuse. This legislation, introduced as SB 16 (Senator Jill Schupp D-St. Louis) was included in HB 432, an omnibus related to protecting vulnerable persons.
Birth Match: Establish the Birth Match Program which requires data sharing between the Children’s Division and Department of Health and Senior Services to allow for DSS to offer early intervention and services to families identified as high risk of maltreatment. This legislation, HB 432, was sponsored by Representative Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove.
Restraint and seclusion: Defines “restraint” and “seclusion” and requires school districts, charter schools, or publicly contracted private providers to include in policy a prohibition on the use of restraint and seclusion, for any purpose other than situations or conditions in which there is imminent danger of physical harm to self or others. This legislation, introduced as HB 387 (Representative Dottie Bailey, R-St. Louis), was included in HB 432, an omnibus related to protecting vulnerable persons.
Access to SAFE-CARE providers: Clarifies provisions in law to allow adolescent victims of abuse (ages 14-17) to be referred to a SAFE-CARE provider if they present at a hospital where there is not one on staff. This legislation, introduced as HB 1179 (Representative Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove) was included in HB 432, an omnibus related to protecting vulnerable persons.
BUDGET & APPROPRIATIONS
The Missouri legislature passed appropriations for State Fiscal Year 2022. A significant part of our work each session is to support funding for agencies and programs that serve children who have been victims of abuse and neglect and that work to prevent child abuse. For FY 2022, Missouri KidsFirst successfully worked to:
- Maintain state investment in Child Advocacy Centers (CACs). This funding is administered to Missouri’s fifteen regional CACs through the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services (DSS). The funds are used for expenses needed to operate the centers. CACs are the foundation of the investigation and prosecution of child physical and sexual abuse in Missouri, providing a child-friendly setting where children can be interviewed by multi-disciplinary team members (Children’s Division case workers, law enforcement, prosecutors, juvenile officers and medical and mental health providers) and receive medical examinations, family advocacy and counseling services. In SFY 2021, Missouri CACs served over 9,000 children. In FY2022, CACs were funded at $2.95 million.
- Protect federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants in the DSS budget. VOCA funding comes from federal court fees. Passed through the Missouri Department of Social Services, VOCA grants support community-based programs for a range of services that directly improve the physical, mental and emotional health and well-being of victims of crime, as well as aid them through the criminal justice process. Federal VOCA guidelines require that a minimum of 10% of the total funds be distributed to victims of child abuse. Missouri CACs use VOCA funding for forensic interviewers, mental health counseling, staff training, equipment, advocacy services and other services to promote the healing of child victims of abuse.
- Maintain funding for the SAFE-CARE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination-Child Abuse Resource and Education) program. Administered by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) in partnership with Missouri KidsFirst, the SAFE-CARE program develops and maintains a coordinated medical response to child abuse and neglect in Missouri. DHSS funding supports training, mentorship and ongoing education for medical providers on the forensic evaluation and comprehensive medical care of children who may have suffered physical or sexual abuse. This program also supports a regionalized medical response to child abuse, including providing triage and medical review of cases of children three and under referred by the Children’s Division and leading medical forensics trainings to providers and multi-disciplinary team members. The regionalized response is coordinated by Missouri KidsFirst and is a collaboration among DSS, DHSS and Missouri’s three Child Abuse Resource Centers (St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Children’s Mercy Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital).
- Support Victims’ Compensation programs administered by the Department of Public Safety: The Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) Program provides financial assistance to victims who have suffered physical harm as a result of violent crime. For victims of child sexual abuse in Missouri, appropriate medical providers bill the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Program within the CVC Program for the charges incurred in collecting evidence during the forensic examination. Additionally, the CVC Program makes payments to medical providers who provide forensic examinations of persons under eighteen years of age who are alleged victims of physical abuse.
What else passed this year?
Thousands of bills are filed each year in the General Assembly. For a full list of bills supported and monitored by Missouri KidsFirst in 2021, including summaries and links to the legislation, check out our 2021 Bill Tracker.
Follow @MOKidsFirst on Twitter for up-to-date legislative updates throughout session!