The New Jersey Senate has passed legislation sponsored by Senate Republicans Diane Allen and Dawn Addiego to correct a flawed statute that prohibits the Department of Children and Families (DCF) from informing a religious institution that substantiated allegations of child abuse have been made against an employee or volunteer.
S-2637 stems from a New Jersey Superior Court Appellate decision regarding a man who was able to apply for a job as a youth pastor, despite having been found by DCF to have sexually abused and neglected his two children, as well as their 10-year-old cousin.
“Right now, a person who is fired from a day care center because of a failed child abuse record check can turn right back around and volunteer to teach Sunday school, and there’s nothing DCF or the courts can do about it. Their hands are tied by the law,” Senator Allen said. “The children in that church classroom are no less deserving of the law’s protection. One example is too many. We have to correct this injustice now.”
In the case that inspired the bill, DCF successfully petitioned the courts to release this information. However, the ruling was overturned because current law excludes religious institutions from the list of entities to which DCF is permitted to disclose records and reports of child abuse, information obtained during investigations, and reports of findings that are forwarded to the State child abuse registry.
S-2637 would close that loophole, by permitting any religious institution to request that DCF conduct a child abuse record check to determine if an incident of child abuse or neglect has been substantiated against any prospective or current employee or volunteer that has access to children.
“What happened in that court case is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Senator Addiego said. “Until the Legislature corrects this dangerous oversight in the law, we will have no way of knowing how many more are at risk. The Department of Children and Families should have every tool at their disposal to stop child abusers from working with innocent children. No exceptions.”