Parents who have a substantiated instance of child abuse or neglect on their record would not be allowed to remove their children from public school without court approval under a Senate bill filed Tuesday.
Senate Democratic Leader Ray Jones of Pikeville said he decided to sponsor Senate Bill 181 after reading in the Herald-Leader earlier this month about an 8-year-old Berea girl tortured nearly to death by her father and his girlfriend, both now in prison.
Officials at the girl’s elementary school reported her injuries to the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services, which opened an investigation and substantiated abuse but did not remove the girl from the home. To help avoid further scrutiny, the father, Julio Valladares, withdrew the girl from class and told the Madison County school district that he would home-school her.
Jones said Wednesday that it should not be so easy for abusive parents to isolate their children. His bill would cover parents or legal guardians who have been found by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to have abused or neglected a child, even if there was not a related criminal conviction.
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“If you have parents who are abusing children and they are able to withdraw their kids from school, there’s really no way for anyone to detect the abuse anymore unless they finally have to get medical attention,” Jones said. “At least if they’re in a public school, teachers might be able to notice the evidence of abuse and report that to social services. Now, if social services drops the ball after it’s been told, that’s unfortunately a whole other problem.”
The number of child abuse and neglect reports that are substantiated in Kentucky has climbed from 9,934 in 2012 to 15,378 in 2016.
Jones’ bill awaits assignment to a Senate committee. Jones said he realizes that this year’s 30-day legislative session is too short to allow consideration of many of the bills being filed, but he hopes this measure becomes law.
“It’s important to me. I’ve got three kids and my wife is a doctor,” Jones said.
Efforts to regulate homeschooling in Kentucky often prove controversial. Some religious groups have opposed what they see as government intrusion into family decisions. However, a finding of child abuse “is a warning signal that needs to be heeded,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.
“I think this bill is a very common sense response if we want to put kids first,” Brooks said. “Bottom line, if you haven’t abused a kid, then you don’t need to worry about Senator Jones’ bill. And if you have abused a kid, then you deserve to worry about it.”