Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/20/1998 03:17 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 375 - CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN/FOSTER CARE Number 1797 CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the next bill before the committee was HB 375. He asked Susan Wibker from the Department of Law and Russ Webb from the Department of Health & Social Services to come forward. He noted there were a number of people in Juneau and on teleconference waiting to testify on this bill. Number 1868 CHAIRMAN BUNDE explained the committee's role is to research the child protection issues. There seems to be a pattern of problems the public is experiencing with child in need of aid cases and with the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS). Historically, the legislature has met the requirements of the department for funding, but the problems are continuing. It's important to understand the cause of the problem and how this particular legislation or any other legislation might address the problems. The committee is also attempting to get a better idea of the management practices within the department. The legislature cannot fix all the problems, but can address some of the proposed legislative fixes such as HB 375. His plan was to address specific questions about HB 375 followed by public testimony. Number 1936 CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Ms. Wibker to address the issue of immunity for DFYS in HB 375. Number 1936 SUSAN WIBKER, Assistant Attorney General, Human Services Section, Civil Division, Department of Law, said the public has expressed repeated concern that DFYS has all the control, but no accountability. She reminded everyone of the judicial oversight and control of the cases by the court system, so the department is accountable to the courts. There's also a review committee in the Department of Administration, external to DFYS, that serves a review function. The Division of Family and Youth Services is subject to an annual federal audit wherein federal auditors review randomly selected files for compliance with federal law. If found to be in noncompliance, the state loses federal funds. In addition, there are several teams such as the placement review team, foster care review team and permanency planning committee that operate both external and internal to the DFYS, reviewing decisions made in the division. Additionally, the legislative audit of the division has just been completed and released. So when she hears comments like no accountability, no review, all DFYS control and no oversight, she feels compelled to point out there are a number of ways in which the department is audited and subjected to oversight. Number 2012 MS. WIBKER said with respect to immunity, the Division of Family and Youth Services has no more or no less immunity than any other public servant. It is her understanding that government officials - policeman, fireman, paramedic, social worker - are allowed to make good faith mistakes, but are not allowed to make malicious, intentional, deliberate acts that would be detrimental. Based on conversations with tort attorneys, she understands it really doesn't matter what the bill says; there is a level of governmental immunity which applies across the board. Number 2041 CHAIRMAN BUNDE observed that perhaps it shouldn't be included in the legislation if it doesn't matter and it's causing people some angst. MS. WIBKER responded, "If you don't say it, my understanding is there's a -- public servants all have a comparable level." She thought perhaps the public was assuming the language infers the DFYS cannot be sued or held accountable in a civil suit, but that's not the case; the DFYS gets sued and whether the language is included in the legislation or not, that's going to happen. Number 2069 REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER asked what portion of the bill Ms. Wibker was referring to. MS. WIBKER directed him to page 42, line 27, which states, "Nothing in this title creates a duty or standard of care ...." She thought this language was generating the public concern. CHAIRMAN BUNDE commented, "While we need laws that are equitably applied, there is, I guess in the legal profession, the appearance of justice as well as the actuality of justice and we need to be aware of that." REPRESENTATIVE PORTER commented he had conducted research on a bill establishing these kinds of protections for public employees in general and it is his understanding that public employees are, by policy, protected or indemnified, but not immune. MS. WIBKER said she's not a tort attorney and couldn't speak to that issue. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER continued that the state, as well as some municipalities, will defend any employee that is sued for a tort and indemnify their action assuming it was something done in the normal course of business; not gross or intentional. CHAIRMAN BUNDE explained that he's bringing up questions that have been raised in public testimony and this issue will continue to be explored by the committee. Number 2184 REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN said, "You said there had been repeated audits and under current law is there a waiver of duty - is this implying or this portion is taking away something that there is now so that negligence could be brought under current law that this would evade because there's no duty established?" MS. WIBKER suggested the committee ask that a tort attorney be present at the next hearing to respond to those issue inasmuch as this language was drafted by the tort attorneys. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if any of the audits had identified any of these situations as a problem area or a potential problem area. MS. WIBKER replied she wasn't aware of any, but deferred the question to Mr. Webb. Number 2228 RUSSELL WEBB, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Health & Social Services, said he was not aware that the focus was on a particular case or a particular act of wrong doing in any of the audits. He added the division commonly faces about four to five civil suits annually, not all of which are found justified. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked of the four to five civil suits annually, do any relate to some type of negligence as opposed to a tort of intent. MR. WEBB did not have an answer to that question. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said, "I'm just wondering why this -- this seems like this is going beyond, for the department, what would be held otherwise in private sector - they can't waive their duty." MS. WIBKER responded, "Based on my recent discussion with the tort attorneys, they are the ones that represent the agency and the claims - they deal with the claims - they are almost external to the agency. There were some recent Supreme Court Opinions that came down from civil suits and they used some of the language in those opinions to develop this." MR. WEBB pointed out for the committee the purpose of the language is certainly not, on the part of the department, to evade its responsibilities or accountability, but simply to make certain the department is not subject to frivolous lawsuits or that employees have no protection and therefore, the department would be unable to get employees. He said that's a critical issue. Number 2316 REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON advised a couple of tort attorneys had visited with him and his staff and as he recalls, the attorneys indicated they would have no problem with everything after the first sentence being deleted in Section 47. He said, "And as I understand it, the 47.14.985 - that sentence is there, I think in a defensive sense to not establish -- I think that they're worried about Cleary kinds of things where they might be sued if, you know optimum conditions that a child finds itself in are not being met." REPRESENTATIVE PORTER said in his opinion, the first line is a precaution to make sure that higher standards aren't set for these employees than would be for any other public or private sector employees. TAPE 98-28, SIDE B Number 0009 CHAIRMAN BUNDE noted there had been public concern expressed about the language in Section 1 on page 2 recognizing children as individuals having legal rights. He asked if that had changed from previous legislation. MS. WIBKER referred to page 2, lines 11-16 and said the department isn't proposing this be law; it's designed to guide the courts in the interpretation of the law. Number 0040 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER asked if the department would be opposed to a Finding that children are individuals who have a right of expectation of freedom and so forth as opposed to establishing a right. MS. WIBKER said the Department of Law tort attorneys reviewed this section as well as the immunity section and offered their advice on how it should be drafted. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER speculated the second half of the immunity portion may not remain in the bill. MS. WIBKER said she expected the tort attorneys would advise that if language was removed from the immunity section, this section would also need to be revised; the two sections go hand in hand. Number 0084 CHAIRMAN BUNDE next referred to the criminal nonsupport section of the HB 375 and asked if that section is essential to this legislation or would it be better addressed in another piece of legislation. MS. WIBKER stated where it's addressed is certainly not as important as the fact that it is addressed. The criminal nonsupport provision is in the bill because it's viewed as part of child protection and preventing child neglect in the current climate of welfare reform, welfare to work. She noted there are children whose ability to be covered by welfare is time limited and the only safety net for many of those children will be child support collection. It's designed to help fill a gap. Number 0126 CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Ms. Wibker to define criminal nonsupport as opposed to nonsupport. MS. WIBKER deferred that question to Dean Guaneli. Number 0148 DEAN GUANELI, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Legal Services Section, Criminal Division, Department of Law, said "Let me phrase it in terms of the elements needed to prove a criminal case of nonsupport. First, we would need to prove that the person who owed the support was aware of the support order. Second, that the person failed to pay support and really the most important is the person had the ability to pay the support; either that the person had assets, was hiding assets, or was able to be gainfully employed and was simply not looking for work or not being gainfully employed. That third element is really the crucial one. It's not simply falling behind in payments - we know that people all the time fall behind, but it's more really in making good faith efforts. It's you've got the ability to pay and you simply refuse to do so." CHAIRMAN BUNDE commented in his mind, the most egregious is the hiding of assets. MR. GUANELI said it happens on a fairly regular basis that assets are hidden. CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the committee would begin to take public testimony at this time. Number 0222 CHRIS HUTCHINSON testified from Kenai via teleconference in opposition to HB 375. She said with respect to immunity, the state is already covered under Title 9 and additional coverage isn't needed under Title 47; it's helpful for the state but not for the people. She said a multi-disciplinary is unnecessary; it's staffed with all professionals and no lay persons. As Mr. Webb testified previously, that information is not available to the prosecutors to get back at the criminal, so what purpose does this team serve. Number 0271 CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked if Ms. Hutchinson would have less opposition if the bill was crafted in such a manner that information would be available to prosecutors and law enforcement. MS. HUTCHINSON responded that was just one of many concerns she has with this legislation. She suggested a commission could be used to review the entire area of child protection. The money will be coming in over a three year period, so there's no real hurry to revamp the DFYS, overturn Supreme Court decisions and so forth. CHAIRMAN BUNDE pointed out this legislation has no connection to the Medicaid money. He asked if witnesses would identify specific fixes to the bill or to simply indicate there was no hope for the entire bill. He thanked Ms. Hutchinson for her comments and asked Mr. Grimes to present his testimony. Number 0356 JOHNNY GRIMES testified via teleconference from Anchorage in opposition to HB 375. He noted that SB 272 was identical to HB 375, and the Senate is not going to support SB 272 because it's anti-father, big government and big spending. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Mr. Gauthier to present his comments on HB 375. Number 0494 WALTER GAUTHIER testified via teleconference from Homer. He referred to a newspaper article wherein a person was writing to Lynne Curry asking advice about an employment situation wherein a counselor backhanded a child. He commented the counseling agency has promised a good reference just to get rid of the counselor. He questioned if this case of child felony assault was being investigated by DFYS or any other agency. CHAIRMAN BUNDE couldn't speak for the Division of Family and Youth Services. He wasn't sure if something appearing in a newspaper is considered a valid complaint of child abuse, but if Mr. Gauthier wanted to make the charge, Chairman Bunde said he would insist the division investigate. MR. GAUTHIER said with respect to HB 375, he wanted to read the following excerpts he received from Rick Toma (sp) concerning the state of Illinois concerning the death of a child: "Subsequently, the Governor and the legislature raced to outdo each other to see who could write in the phrase 'the best interest of the child' in its new legislation. They wrote it in 28 times into statute. In 1987, Illinois had 14,000 children in foster care; as of 1994, they have 45,000 children in foster care. This best interest of the child is not just another feel good social worker slogan. It is specific legal language with specific consequences." If this bill is enacted into law, he predicted the number of children in foster care will double, along with a concurrent increase in demands for so-called nonprofit service provider that is funded by the government through the Department of Health & Social Services. He stated this bill has no redeeming value; it is nothing more than the expansion of a system whose biggest problem is the darkness of confidentiality. No one can review anything DFYS does because it's all confidential. CHAIRMAN BUNDE spoke of the challenge facing the committee - recently children have died of child abuse, children are born with FAS and FAE, children are born to drug addicts and so on. The committee is motivated to try and solve these problems and it's a challenge to do that without trampling on a person's rights. He said the committee would welcome any advice the public could offer. MR. GAUTHIER said the system has plenty of power; the problem is a monopoly of the system. If an agency budget is increased every time there's a report of a child death, the agency need only ignore certain situations purposefully. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked if Mr. Gauthier was suggesting that DFYS is killing children to make money. MR. GAUTHIER said he is suggesting that DFYS is deliberately leaving some children in situations they know will result in cases which will make the newspapers. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Gauthier for his comments and asked Ms. Downs to present her testimony. Number 0744 DEBORAH DOWNS, Social Worker and Program Officer, Division of Family and Youth Services, Department of Health & Social Services, testified via teleconference from Petersburg in support of the portion of HB 375 establishing the multi-disciplinary teams. Child abuse investigators, such as herself, would greatly benefit from having access to the resources that a multi-disciplinary team would provide. She believed that emphasis should be placed on the term "resource" versus review. As Ms. Wibker pointed out, there are many reviews that evaluate different functions, but people in the field need resources to do a better job relating to investigation of child abuse. Although she is usually able to delineate when doing an investigation whether an injury has occurred or a child is at risk of harm, there are cases that have come to her attention where those definitive lines are not as clear. That's when she relies heavily on a multi-disciplinary team as she goes through the investigation process. In her 25+ years experience in child protection, she has relied on multi-disciplinary teams working closely with law enforcement, prosecutors and medical personnel, both in urban and rural settings. The two things she wanted to stress to the committee for consideration were that by doing a collaborative and coordinated approach to child abuse investigations, the trauma to children is significantly minimized and secondly, allowing the field personnel such as herself, to draw on the expertise and experience of other people is a valuable resource. She urged the committee to pass the section of HB 375 dealing with multi-disciplinary teams. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked if Ms. Downs had a problem with information from a multi-disciplinary team being made available to law enforcement personnel in the case of criminal activity. MS. DOWNS said she would hope that law enforcement would be an active participant in the process and therefore, would have total access to the information. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Downs for her comments and asked Ms. Buffington to present her remarks at this time. Number 0890 DIANA BUFFINGTON testified via teleconference from Kodiak. She said, "I'd like to point out several things in this bill, Mr. Chairman. Section 1 and a lot of this has been reviewed and put up against the U.N. Children's Bill of Rights which was not, I repeat, not ratified by the U.S. Congress, although the Children's Bill of Rights (indisc.) by the U.N. looked on the outside, many of these things - the ramifications of that bill -the reason Congress did not pass it, is written up in this bill." She noted House Bill 375 will overturn several Supreme Court and Superior Court rulings that she felt need to stay in place. She referred to Section 11 regarding criminal nonsupport and said public assistance is added to a child support order and it would be very easy to get up to $10,000 in criminal nonsupport. She noted there are over 53,000 child support cases in this state of which 30,000 are Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). She believed that Representative Ryan and Senator Ellis had received information from CSED indicating that anywhere from 39,000 to 49,000 cases are in arrears and yet if CSED can pull some money out, they will certainly file nonsupport. With respect to the immunity issue, she said no one should have immunity and DFYS and CSED are good at creating omission intentionally to win a favorable court review. In conclusion, she said this bill needs to be defeated in its entirety. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Buffington for her comments and asked Debbie Nelson to present her remarks. Number 1077 DEBBIE NELSON testified from Kenai via teleconference in opposition to HB 375. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Nelson for her remarks and asked Trooper Ellis to testify at this time. Number 1111 WILLARD S. ELLIS, Trooper, Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety, testified via teleconference from Petersburg regarding the multi-disciplinary teams. He's been a trooper for 17+ years working in Palmer, Cold Bay and Petersburg working child investigations in all three locations. He's had specialized training on child abuse investigation and sexual assault response team training. He said the purpose of the team is to facilitate civil investigations between two or more agencies over a specific incident and the use of a team helps to protect a child from further traumatization. By having the agencies work together as a team, the victim isn't asked to tell the story to each agency at different times. These teams are usually made up of an individual from the police department, a social worker, a medical professional, hopefully a victims' advocate and perhaps a representative of the District Attorney's Office. He emphasized the team is not for agency oversight; it's to protect the victim. If the purpose of the team was to provide oversight of an agency, he would be inclined to not participate on a team that wasn't to protect the victim and help prosecute a case. With regard to the district attorney being in charge of the team, he thought it should be developed locally. Number 1237 REPRESENTATIVE DYSON asked who had taken the leadership in setting up the multi-disciplinary team in the rural areas. TROOPER ELLIS replied it's been his experience that law enforcement would take the leadership. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Trooper Ellis for commenting and asked Gene Altig to comment. Number 1256 GENE ALTIG testified from Fairbanks via teleconference and said HB 375 can't work and should be scrapped. He added that juries handle murder cases; not the DFYS. CHAIRMAN BUNDE commented he didn't see anything in HB 375 that would supplant the jury system or an investigation by law enforcement. He thanked Mr. Altig for commenting and asked Anita Alves to testify at this time. Number 1311 ANITA ALVES, Office of Public Advocacy, testified via teleconference from Anchorage in support of HB 375. She wanted to briefly address the proposed changes to the court jurisdiction for the child in need aid cases. She often represents delinquents as an attorney and as a guardian ad litem and too many times she's sat across from a young person awaiting court for angry acts of property damage or assaultive behavior and listened to them describe a childhood of anger and violence in their home. The emotional harm to children that results from living with and viewing acts of violence is devastating. The cost of treating these children as teenagers, the cost of locking these children away and the cost of the damage these children afflict on the state is immense. The state needs to be able to intervene early in a child's life when they are experiencing this type of emotional harm, as well as when they are experiencing physical harm or neglect. The time to act is when a child is young, working with the family, providing resources that the child can live in that family as long as it's a safe, stable home. Once the child becomes a delinquent, it's often too late for the children and too late for the family. Passing HB 375 will give these children a chance in their life when they're young before it's too late. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Alves for testifying and asked Jane Burchard if HB 375 should be fixed or scrapped. Number 1417 JANE BURCHARD testified via teleconference from Fairbanks and said HB 375 should be scrapped. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Geraldine Brown to present her comments. Number 1433 GERALDINE BROWN testified via teleconference from Fairbanks and urged the committee not to pass HB 375 or anything that gives the DFYS any more power. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Brown and asked Harry Niehaus to testify. Number 1481 HARRY NIEHAUS testified from Fairbanks via teleconference in opposition to HB 375. He referred to a Supreme Court case that has granted social workers and others absolute quasi-judicial immunity; they are immune to perjury, manufacturing evidence, et cetera. He said, "Therefore, if we are to sue them, we have to do it in their official and unofficial capacity." There has never been a successful prosecution or suit against the agency. CHAIRMAN BUNDE inquired if the state has ever been sued and the people have prevailed. MS. WIBKER said the DFYS gets sued five to six times a year and yes, people do prevail. CHAIRMAN BUNDE commented he would continue with the public testimony and asked Charles Rollins if HB 375 should be fixed or scrapped. Number 1597 CHARLES ROLLINS testified via teleconference from Fairbanks and said HB 375 should be scrapped. The bill is too long and is not well written. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Betty Rollins to present her comments next. Number 1686 BETTY ROLLINS testified via teleconference from Fairbanks in opposition to HB 375. She said it attempts to cover far too many issues. CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced HB 375 would be heard again in committee on Tuesday, March 24 but teleconference would be restricted to listen only, as the committee would be addressing the issues. Public testimony would again be taken once the committee has worked on the bill. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Rollins for her comments and asked Paul Nelson to present his statement. Number 1773 PAUL NELSON testified offnet from Haines and said the Governor's transmittal letter that accompanied HB 375 states, "More than 15,500 reports of child abuse or neglect were filed last year in Alaska." He said while this may be true, the Governor does not indicate how many of these reports were false nor how many convictions actually occurred. Despite the comments that have been made today, this bill seeks to grant total immunity to the DFYS. Even the President of the United States is not immune from prosecution; the DFYS should be responsible for their actions. He related his personal experience of having no criminal record, paying child support and not seeing his daughter for 11 years because he refuses to incriminate himself. His civil rights are violated, yet no Alaska court will even address the civil rights issue. He said there are families that live in fear of the DFYS and he requested the committee not grant DFYS more power by passing HB 375. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Nelson for his testimony and asked Mr. Calder to comment at this time. Number 1910 SCOTT CALDER testified via teleconference from Fairbanks and agreed with all the testimony presented against this bill. He said the whole idea of the legislation is wrong. After years of problems with people talking about children being kidnaped, injured while in foster care, et cetera, nothing has ever been done to correct those problems. The DFYS is an agency which, in combination with other agencies, severely victimizes human beings in the state of Alaska and until that's addressed he didn't think there could be any discussion about spending more money on more promises. CHAIRMAN BUNDE reiterated this bill does not propose to spend any more money. He called Pamela Scott forward to present her testimony. Number 2023 PAMELA SCOTT said she was testifying on behalf of her son. She's a new mother of six weeks; she brought her son home not from the hospital, but from his tenth foster care placement. Her home will be his permanent home. She wanted to address the termination of parental rights section of HB 375. Her son is seven years old and has never lived with his biological mother; however, the system is set up so she has been able to maintain her parental rights, although she hasn't provided for the child. She emphasized this bill is about child protection and in all the testimony presented, no one has talked about the voice of the child. She is enjoying the possibility of being this child's mother for the remainder of his minority life and this bill gives her that opportunity. She said there are foster children who want permanent placement and there are people who are capable and able to provide permanent care homes - adoptive care as well as permanent guardianship for children in the system - but children are not given that opportunity because the way the system is set up now, the children are not protected and parents are given too many rights. She said there are things in this bill that are essential to protecting children. Children need love, stability and consistency which they can't get through foster care placement when they are moved from place to place. CHAIRMAN BUNDE on behalf of the committee congratulated Ms. Scott on becoming a parent. He asked Don Dapcevich to come forward to present his remarks. Number 2258 DON DAPCEVICH, Executive Director, State Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Department of Health & Social Services, said he had been instructed by the board to come before the committee to testify in support of HB 375. The board started off having some misgivings about this bill; some of the issues dealt with the seeming difference between 42 CFR, the federal confidentiality rules, and this statute and there was also concern about the disincentive for treatment for parents that was present in the original bill. There is, however, a proposed amendment that alleviates the fears of the board and they now support HB 375. He said, "We try to walk that very delicate balance between .... TAPE 98-29, SIDE A Number 0007 MR. DAPCEVICH continued " .... parents. And the other side of that is to get rid of those parents - get those parents out of the lives of children when they refuse to or when they fail repeatedly to respond to treatment - and you have to make those hard decisions and I think this bill begins that process in getting to good decisions with regard to protecting our children, which has to come first." CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Dapcevich for his comments and called Jayne Andreen forward to present her comments. Number 0064 JAYNE ANDREEN, Executive Director, Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, Department of Public Safety, said the council is supportive of HB 375; it's definitely fixable. She said, "Yesterday I talked about the increasing realization we have of the impact that domestic violence has on children. We know that they are too often primary victims of child abuse. We are starting to also recognize and realize what an impact it has on them as secondary victims - just being in the home where domestic violence exists. One of the things I want to share with you is during the Domestic Violence Summit, the children and youth focus group which spent most of one day looking specifically at children and youth issues and how that pertains to domestic violence, said specifically that we need to define the emotional harm and include in that the witnessing of domestic violence." She worked at the front lines of domestic violence for 11 years in Alaska and her greatest frustration with the DFYS was the fact they could never do enough for far too many children and it had nothing to do with a lack of compassion of the social workers; it had to do with a lack of resources and the lack of appropriate laws and structure. She thought this legislation does an excellent job of recrafting how the state approaches the protection of children, which has to be done. At the same time, it's important to be careful about how to respond to children in situations where domestic violence exists. Similar to Mr. Dapcevich's comments, the council also had some concerns about HB 375, but is comfortable those concerns will be addressed in the forthcoming amendment. CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the committee would be addressing the amendments the following Tuesday. He thanked Ms. Andreen for her comments and asked Lauree Hugonin to come forward. Number 0237 LAUREE HUGONIN, Director, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, said the network supports several sections of HB 375; those relating to the child murder reclassification, the redefining of indecent exposure, the increased sentencing for a conviction of criminally negligent homicide when the victim is a child, the revisions to the sex offender registration laws and the development of the child and fatality review teams. She specifically wanted to address the emotional harm when children witness domestic violence and express some concerns the network has with the legislation. She, too, felt confident the forthcoming amendments will address the network's concerns. MS. HUGONIN noted there have been several studies done to see the tie-in between child abuse and domestic violence. A lot of the research suggests that as many as 90 percent of children from violent homes actually witness the abuse being perpetrated. One study showed that some fathers deliberately arrange for their children to witness the violence; other studies have shown violence occurs only when the children are present. Unfortunately, male children who witness the abuse of mothers by their fathers are more likely to become men who batter the male children from homes where there's violence. The decision to leave or stay often depends on the mother's assessment of what will be in the best interest of her children. Understanding the mother's reasoning and the many forces that shape her decision is really important when looking at ensuring safety for herself and her children. She informed the committee of a couple of studies available in her office; the American Bar Association study called "The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children" and a study entitled "The Overlap Between Child Maltreatment and Woman Abuse". She read the following excerpts from "In the Best Interest of Women and Children; A Call for Collaboration Between Child Welfare and Domestic Violence Constituencies: "He hit me in the stomach when I was pregnant. Then he threatened to beat my daughter and you don't ever hit my kids. I tried before, but when it comes to my kids, no more." It was found in this particular study that women would decide to leave the home, not when necessarily the abuse was upon themselves, but when they felt they could no longer protect their children. Other studies have indicated that some women choose to remain in abusive relationships in order to protect their children. MS. HUGONIN stressed there's not this one easy answer to just leave and the children will be safe or just stay and the children will be safe; it's very situation specific. She said it's important to realize that and to be careful when deciding what to do and how to respond in child abuse cases. If a mother with no resources leaves the home, she may not have a choice to be find shelter in a situation that's less than ideal for children, so she may leave her children with the abuser because there's a roof over their head, they're getting fed and clothed and sometimes the Child Protection Agency will step in and say she hasn't protected her child. On the other hand if she stays, she may have that same failure to protect. So in both situations, without proper training and experience and carefully listening to what the adult victim is saying regarding her best safety interest and that of her children, things can be done which create more harm. MS. HUGONIN stated that with the passage of the Domestic Violence Act in 1996, the DFYS was required to start looking at adult victims of domestic violence. If an adult victim of domestic violence was observed while investigating a report of harm, the DFYS case worker would get information and referrals to the adult victim. It's important that all victims in the family and in the situation be protected. Number 0672 CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Hugonin for her testimony. CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced HB 375 would be held in committee and heard the following Tuesday.