By Megan Hart, February 16, 2016
Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to narrow the scope of abuse and neglect allegations sent to his office for investigation.
Schmidt testified Tuesday in favor of Senate Bill 408, which would charge the Department of Corrections, rather than the Attorney General’s Office, with investigating abuse and neglect complaints in the juvenile justice system.
The bill also would shift investigations at facilities run by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and the Department for Children and Families to area law enforcement. DCF currently doesn’t operate any facilities.
“They (the Department of Corrections) have functional, perfectly competent investigators,” Schmidt said.
The Attorney General’s Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Unit would have discretion on whether to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies on investigations or to conduct its own investigations related to the abuse or neglect of children or adults. It would place the priority on investigating alleged crimes against seniors, adults with disabilities and other vulnerable Kansas adults.
Schmidt said the unit annually receives about 1,400 cases related to children and 400 related to adults. Unless the Legislature wants to appropriate money to hire additional investigators, he said, the office should focus on properly handling the adult cases.
“Right now our efforts are a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said. “Our request here is to sort of let us refocus our mission.”
Schmidt estimated that out of every 100 cases the unit received related to juvenile justice system, 10 had merit and about five pointed to a substantial problem.
“Occasionally, we get a complaint that there’s not just smoke, there’s fire, and it needs to be investigated,” he said. “That’s the exception.”
The bill also would authorize the unit to work with the Medicaid fraud and abuse division on investigations relating to abuse and neglect, and to work with the Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said the bill would allow the unit to focus on its original mission.
It was created after a partnership between the Disability Rights Center and the Attorney General’s Office found people at a group home operated by Arlan and Linda Kaufman were abused.
Children already have a system dedicated to investigating reports of abuse and neglect, Nichols said, while adults such as those who lived at the Kaufman House were ignored despite repeated complaints to state officials. The unit was intended to address the lack of protections for vulnerable adults, he said.
“We think this is a step in the right direction to get back to that focus,” he said.
Nancy Jensen, a victim of the Kaufmans, also testified in favor of the bill. She said she reported the abuse she experienced but wasn’t taken seriously because she has a mental illness, and the Kaufmans were allowed to continue operating a group home for years.
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