Progress on Abuse Reporting Measure
By Rick Foster
December 14, 2017
|The Massachusetts Statehouse. (AP file photo)|
Leaders of a local effort to expand reporting of suspected sexual abuse of children say they’re feeling good about chances of getting state legislators to take action on a bill this year.
Members of a local committee formed to combat sexual abuse testified before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities last week on the bill that would broaden mandated reporting of suspected abuse to include a wide range of people who work with children, including volunteer coaches.
The bill is the legacy of reported sexual victimization of children by a teacher and volunteer swim coach locally and in Florida over more than two decades. Former Foxboro resident William Sheehan, who also served as a scoutmaster, has been accused of assaulting dozens of children during that time.
However, it was decades before Sheehan’s alleged crimes were reported.
Local officials including state Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, who filed the bill said they believed they got a sympathetic reception from the legislative committee.
“I think we all left with a sense that the members present were supportive,” said Rev. William Dudley, who testified he was assaulted by Sheehan as a child. “Chairman (Kay) Kahn seemed very much so, as did another representative to her left. Jay explained it will be a slog to get there, but we left feeling quite upbeat.”
Police Lt. Richard Noonan was equally pleased with the reception.
“They were very open to our presentation and I think they asked some good questions,” said Noonan, who also testified. “I think they realized that the more eyes and ears there are, the better it is for children.”
Barrows said the committee hearing is just the start of the complicated process of enacting a state law, and cautioned there are a number of steps to come. However he said there is every reason to believe the proposal will find support.
“We had a good hearing,” Barrows said. “I think this is an issue people can rally around.”
Barrows said in many states, virtually all citizens are required to report it if they witness or learn of suspected abuse.
Current state law defines mandated reporters as licensed professionals such as a doctor or psychologist, counselors, teachers and school administrators, clergy, child care workers, court officials, foster parents and child advocates.
Barrows’s bill would expand the number of categories by including any public or private school employee and anyone employed in a public or private child care facility as well as volunteers who work with children on sports teams, church groups, recreation, scouting and the YMCA.
The bill would require mandated reporters to receive training.
In Foxboro, town departments and major nonprofits have already instituted training in recognizing evidence of potential abuse.
During the hearing, members of the Foxboro committee were asked about the frequency of reported sexual abuse incidents in their town and told the committee that there had been none in the recent past.
Barrows said that could well be because the town’s efforts in educating adults and raising awareness about abuse.
Sheehan was never prosecuted in Massachusetts for his alleged crimes. When Bay State authorities issued an arrest warrant for the former teacher, the accused man was judged to be suffering from Alzheimer’s and unable to stand trial.