JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Department of Social Services caseworkers investigating claims of child abuse reported through the state's hot line should not leave a business card if no one answers the door at the home of an allegedly abused minor, a lawmaker said Wednesday.
Rep. Shane Shoeller, R-Willard, told members of a House committee the business cards — which instruct adults to contact the department — could motivate suspects to further abuse children or to cover up any abuse before investigators return.
Shoeller is proposing a bill to amend the state law that governs how investigators handle child abuse complaints.
Springfield resident Tim Davis and his wife, Debi, told the committee they phoned the hot line several times in 2005 to report their grandson, Gavin Jordan, was being abused. They said state investigators visited the home where Gavin was living but did not see him in person. They left a business card and later returned to investigate the premises. They saw Gavin on a subsequent visit.
Gavin was killed in 2005 and his mother's ex-boyfriend was convicted in his death in 2007.
Dabbing his eyes and pausing to hold back his emotions, Davis said the caseworkers' report, issued the day after Jordan's death, found no reason to further investigate based on the second visit. The report noted the house was clean and stocked with adequate food.
"Leaving the card ... the only thing that was accomplished by that was that they cleaned up the mess and hid the truth," he said.
None of the committee members voiced opposition to the bill, but Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, said a business card might serve to warn the suspect their behavior is being monitored.
"We want the card to be there so they know they're under investigation," Ellinger said. "Could we be condemning the child, if (the department) is not able to leave a card and get back, to more days of abuse?"
Shoeller said abusers who eventually kill their victims are unlikely to be deterred, even temporarily, by a business card.
Melody Yancey, the deputy director of the department's Children's Division, said investigators decide whether to leave business cards on a case-by-case basis. She said they typically do so if they believe it will help them find the child and see them in person without motivating a suspect to abuse them again.
"What we try to do is use our best judgment," she said.
The bill would also require that hot line workers be evaluated if they answer a call concerning a child who is subsequently killed or seriously injured. Shoeller said many police departments put officers on administrative leave if a suspect is killed and the state should do something similar with hot line workers.