Maryland Department of Human Resources
301 West Saratoga Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Re: Proposed Action on Regulations
Dear Ms. Shuck,
The Maryland Department of Human Resources (”DHR” or “Department”) has proposed certain amendments to regulations, 07.02.07, Child Protective Services – Investigation of Child Abuse and Neglect. Under the DHR’s Proposed Action on Regulations (set forth in the January 23, 2015 Maryland Register), the DHR has proposed changes to regulations to implement alternative response, including “How to conduct and complete the alternative response” as well as “[g]uidelines . . . on the expungement of alternative response records,” changes to certain confidentiality provisions and “[g]uidelines regarding [DHR] releasing information on fatalities and near fatalities.” Maryland Register, Vol. 42, Issue 2, Jan 23, 2015 at p. 148.
The proposed changes thus encompass implementation of a practice changing approach to child protection, as well as proposing guidelines in several critical areas — expungement of records that would otherwise serve to assist investigators should additional reports of abuse or neglect arise in the future and information related to fatalities and near fatalities that may help interested members of society support the DHR in meeting its goal of protecting abused and neglected children. Because the proposal is so complex and comes during the busy legislative session, we understand that interested citizens and entities have requested that a hold be placed on the proposed action, with the comment period on the proposed changes to the regulations extended until sometime after the end of the current legislative session. First Star supports the hold request and the extension of the comment period. The importance of these issues – implementation of major changes to child protection, expungement of records, confidentiality and the disclosure of information related to child fatalities and near fatalities – to the life, health and well-being of some of Maryland’s children is clear, and consequently regulatory action should not be undertaken without the opportunity for considered input from interested constituents and advocates acting in the interest of children.
As DHR knows, one of First Star’s program areas is supporting efforts to increase transparency with regard to fatalities and near fatalities of abused and neglected children with an aim to bettering processes that can serve to prevent child deaths in the future. First Star is currently finalizing a draft report on these matters nationally that we believe will be instructive to Maryland in considering proposed regulatory change. First Star would welcome the opportunity to provide comments based on this additional information, and the additional time sought by others will permit comments First Star to provide DHR with valuable information.
1. For internal DHR use in investigating suspected child abuse and neglect, reports should be maintained regardless of the determination to pursue alternative response. Similarly, expungement of reports from any central registry that may be accessed for employment or volunteer screening purposes should not be interpreted to limit the agency’s ability to maintain and access information for internal investigative purposes.
2. Changing terminology that has been in use for years, and thus has accepted interpretative meaning renders the regulations and the conduct to be investigated unnecessarily confusing and may suggest that something else is intended. For example, it may be best to simply continue to use the terms indicated, unsubstantiated or ruled out as appropriate.
3. Alternative response has been less than successful in protecting children in a number of states, and strong clear standards are being developed to ensure that children are protected. While DHR has promulgated a Policy Guidance on alternative response, the proposed regulations themselves do not define or address the actual requirements, other than providing for certain instances where it shall not be used, and repeating conclusory statements as to what it is. The regulations should clarify the process for making a determination as to the use of alternative response, detailing the circumstances and factors that will or won’t lead to alternative response, including the process set forth in the Policy Guidance as may be amended based on the lessons learned in other states. First Star has many concerns about the proposed regulations and will work with the Department to flesh these out.
4. Maintaining records of reports, determinations made of indicated, unsubstantiated, and ruled out, as well as alternative response, are critical for internal agency assessment.
5. First Star has long advocated for regulations with respect to the disclosure of child fatality and near fatality information and has offered its assistance in developing those regulations. Because we are finalizing a report that may assist in the development of these regulations, we will renew the offer to provide comments and assistance to the Department, and will provide additional comments within any extended comment period. Thank you for your consideration of our views. We will provide more complete comments within whatever extended deadline the Department determines is advisable.
Elissa T. Garr
Noy S. Davis