As the new year begins, legislators are looking to tackle several issues, including those discussed during 2021.
One of those concerns has to do with the rise of child sex abuse scandals in local schools and higher educational institutions — an issue that remains a focus of Cheshire resident and State Representative Liz Linehan (D-103).
“In the past few months, there have been a lot of reports of misconduct in schools,” said Linehan. “This problem is everywhere. When you sign a child up for a sport or an after-school program, there should be information handed out about (how to spot) grooming and child abuse.”
In an effort to help curb the problem, Linehan and her colleagues in Hartford are proposing a series of bills that aim to directly address the issue.
“ As co-chair of the Committee on Children, some of the bills we are working on will address statute of limitations on failure to report incidents of child abuse by mandated reporters (individuals who work with children who are mandated by law to report incidents of abuse), bystander training, and a host of other issues, which all contribute to this issue of increasing child abuse instances within school walls,” she explained.
Proposed House Bill #5925, being introduced by Linehan and her Democrat colleague Christine Conley from the 40th District, will lengthen the statute of limitations to more than five years. Linehan is also working to extend background checks for all adults who work with children, as well as longer prison terms for convicted abusers.
“Abusers can fall through the cracks when information is treated as rumors and school staff, including mandated reporters of abuse, fail to speak up,” she explained. “The problem is that many times, someone will (get fired) when there is talk of a problem and a school district doesn’t necessarily investigate. If that's the case, there is no record of it, and that teacher can go teach anywhere.”
Linehan has made a point to highlight child abuse cases that come up in court on her State Representative Facebook page. Most recently she has highlighted a case in Hamden in which Hamden police are investigating allegations of inappropriate text messages from a teacher to a student.
“I will introduce many pieces of legislation this coming session to combat this (inappropriate text messaging), in addition to the laws I passed last year,” she posted on her page on Nov. 16. “Among the new bills — increasing the statute of limitations on Failure to Report as a Mandated Reporter, legislation to address Pass The Trash, Bystander Training, and increasing penalties for the sexual abuse of children.”
Because of these issues, Linehan has been dedicated to finding solutions with her peers in Hartford to make school and extracurricular activities safer for all children.
Last year, Linehan and her Committee on Children passed House Bill #6113, requiring youth summer camps and some nonprofit organizations sponsoring youth athletic programs to conduct background checks on all of their coaches, but Linehan feels like there is more to be done.
“I am so passionate about this issue because child abuse needs to be combated at every angle in order for us to put an end to it,” she cautioned. “Children can be groomed, abused, and/or neglected by members of our community who fly under the radar every day, and I hope to bring attention, not only to the issue, but to the solutions as well.”