• December 8, 2019

N.J. extends limitation on child sex abuse suits - Ocean City Sentinel: News

N.J. extends limitation on child sex abuse suits

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Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 10:45 am

TRENTON — A new state law that went into effect Dec. 1 expands the statute of limitations, allowing victims of sexual abuse up to the age of 55 to take action or adults within seven years from the date they were aware of the abuse to sue their accusers, organizations and municipalities.

The new law also gives victims who previously could not file claims, due to the statute of limitations, a two-year period to file claims. As part of the legislation, the New Jersey Tort Claims Act now makes public entities liable for suits.

In New Jersey, abuse reports involving 80,000 children are filed each year. Of those, 50,000 children receive prevention and post-response services.  

During a Nov. 26 Borough Commission meeting, Mayor Robert Moffatt reported on a Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) Municipal Excess Liability (MEL) seminar he attended at the annual League of Municipalities convention.

Moffatt said he would examine the new law with borough solicitor Brock Russell. 

“Not just does it involve what we have to do as a municipality but it involves any volunteer organization that works with kids under 18,” he said.

Moffatt confirmed there were persons under age 18 in the junior lifeguard program, working as beach taggers, involved in beach cleanups and the junior lifeguard program. 

“It’s something we’ll have to address by the next season,” Moffatt said.

Russell said it unfortunately discourages having programs for those under 18. 

The MEL has published a model policy addressing the protection and safe treatment of minors. The policy states municipalities and counties may operate or sponsor a variety of programs that involve children, including but not limited to recreation programs, before and after care programs, youth sports leagues, youth centers, youth in government programs and junior law enforcement training programs.

The procedures outlined in the MEL model policy would apply to all officials, employees and volunteers of a local unit, it states.

It recommends all prospective employees and volunteers undergo a thorough and complete background check, including but not limited to a fingerprint identification check, credit check, motor vehicle record check, reference check, personal and professional, and a check of the Megan’s Law directory for New Jersey and any other state where the applicant previously resided. Written documentation of the background check shall be maintained by the local unit forever.  

It notes background checks that disclose any negative or questionable results must be reviewed and approved prior to the individual being hired and/or working with minors. Provisional hiring is not permitted.  

The MEL recommends all prospective employees and volunteers must complete the training adopted by the local unit prior to starting employment or volunteer service. In addition to completing the training course adopted by the local unit, all volunteer coaches shall complete the Rutgers SAFETY Clinic course (Sports Awareness for Educating Today’s Youth ™) which is a three-hour program that meets the “Minimum Standards for Volunteer Coaches Safety Orientation and Training Skills Programs” under (N.J.A.C. 5:52) and provides partial civil immunity protection to volunteer coaches under the “Little League Law.” 

The local unit shall annually re-check and document the Megan’s Law directory for New Jersey to make certain that current employees are not listed, states the MEL.

“Once employed, authorized adults who are employed are required to notify the appropriate Human Resources representative of an arrest (charged with a misdemeanor or felony) or conviction for an offense within 72 hours of knowledge of the arrest or conviction,” it states.

Under New Jersey Law, an official may be held liable for the abuse or neglect of a child if he or she fails to implement appropriate safeguards to protect the child while the minor has been entrusted to the care of the local unit.  Most importantly, recent changes in the law in New Jersey extended the statute of limitations for child abuse and neglect cases substantially, thus placing local officials and employees at a far greater risk, states the MEL.

According to the MEL, a valid cause of action can be filed by an alleged victim well after the official has left office. It is, therefore, critically important for officials to establish and monitor policies and procedures designed to safeguard minors entrusted to the care of the local unit.  

Officials are required to complete the initial training course adopted by the local unit and any updated/refresher course, in order to better understand their legal duties and responsibilities under federal and state law, recommends the MEL.

The training program will include:

• Recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect of minors.

• Establishing guidelines for protecting minors from emotional and physical abuse and neglect.

• Understanding and being prepared to implement the procedures necessary to eliminate opportunities for abuse. 

• Becoming familiar with the legal requirements to report suspected cases of abuse.

• Fully understanding the legal consequences for not being diligent in making certain that employees of the local unit adhere to all policies and procedures as adopted.    

The MEL recommends meeting annually with all department heads to review the “Policy Addressing Sexual Abuse of Minors,” and conduct random and unannounced visits to program sites to observe the setup of the programs and conduct of the employees and volunteers of the local unit. 

 In addition the MEL recommends a code of conduct be adopted that includes:

• Staff members shall not transport children in their own vehicles, unless written authorization from the child’s parent or guardian has been received.  

• Members of the staff shall not be alone with children they meet in the programs outside of the camp. This includes babysitting, sleepovers, and inviting children to their home.  

• Staff members shall, at all times, be visible to other staff members while supervising minors.  Any exceptions require a written explanation before the fact and approval of the Program Director.  

• Staff members will appear neat, clean, and appropriately attired.  

• Staff members will refrain from intimate displays of affection towards others in the presence of children, parents and staff.

• Staff members are required to refrain from texting and posting or checking any of the social media outlets while they are working or volunteering. The only exception is for texting for the purposes of communicating with another staff member or parent regarding a programmatic issue pertaining to a child.  

•Staff members are prohibited from buying gifts for program participants. 

The complete recommendations are available at https://njmel.org/mel-safety-institute/model-policies/protecting-children/  

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