Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a new law to expand the public’s access to the state’s child abuse registry. Keep reading for more information.
The Child Abuse Registry
In Michigan, those convicted of child abuse are added to a statewide registry that is accessible to law enforcement and the judicial system. However, before Governor Whitmer’s decision, the general public was not allowed to access the registry.
Wyatt’s Law gives access to caregivers who may suspect that a child in their care is a victim of abuse. The law was named after Wyatt Hammel. Wyatt was in the care of his father’s girlfriend when his mother began to suspect the possibility of abuse. His mother was rightfully concerned about her infant son being in an abusive household and was desperate to protect him.
Her son survived the abuse, but Hammel believes that her son would not have gone through the abuse had she been able to access the child abuse registry to see that her ex-husband’s girlfriend had two child abuse charges on her record.
After years of petitioning and appealing to lawmakers, Hammel found allies within the state legislature who drafted Wyatt’s Law. This draft of the legislation surpasses past drafts in that it focuses on giving access to the existing registry instead of creating a complicated new system from scratch.
Now, caregivers will have access to the registry as a resource for detecting abuse among the children in their care. The newly refined registry which will be reviewed annually has over 300,000 including all of those who have been investigated by child services.
The registry is now searchable and only those who pose a real danger are included in the list. In other words, those accused of child abuse that are innocent will be able to appeal the decision and have their names expunged from the registry.
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What This Means for Victims
For victims of child abuse, opening access to the registry can be a direct line to the help they need. If a teacher or caregiver has reason to believe that the child could be a victim of abuse, they can search the registry for the suspect’s name and see if the person has prior convictions or investigations for child abuse on record.
If they find that the person has a record, they can make a case to the police to investigate them again. Not only does this help to prevent further abuse, but it also gives caretakers a resource to end abuse early instead of waiting for other agencies to take the reigns to investigate someone with a track record of abuse and neglect.
Unfortunately, this new law does raise concerns for those accused of child abuse. The new law would make prosecution of child abuse more strict and public which adds to the stigma of being accused of a crime.
In some cases, a person may be accused of child abuse as an act of revenge or manipulation from a jilted ex-spouse or partner. If spouses are going through a divorce, abuse allegations could be a tool used to discourage the court from granting the accused child custody or visitation with their children.
Being added to a child abuse registry also eliminates most employment opportunities and could result in expulsion from an existing job in some cases. For example, if a teacher is accused of child abuse during their divorce proceedings, the school could terminate them as a result.
Criminal accusations are incredibly damaging, and while Wyatt’s Law does provide expunction opportunities, it’s unclear how exactly the law will apply across the board.
If you have been accused of child abuse and/or want to apply to have the accusations expunged, contact White Law, PLLC.