- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A new Missouri policy to require increased response to allegations of children sexually assaulting other minors was signed into law Wednesday by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Once the measure takes effect Aug. 28, the state Children’s Division must report claims of sex abuse between two children to a local office, where workers must respond and can provide counseling and other services.

The office also has the option to investigate further, which could include seeking help from law enforcement.

The Children’s Division previously had limited authority to respond to claims of abuse committed by those under 14, according to Nixon’s office.

Joy Oesterly, executive director of the child advocacy group Missouri KidsFirst, said the legislation will address a gap in what cases of abuse the agency can review, which she said covered abuse by adults but did not include child-on-child assault.

“Nobody really had responsibility for doing that,” Oesterly said. “Now, those children won’t fall through the cracks.”

Rebecca Woelfel, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services, which includes the Children’s Division, said the agency is reviewing the legislation.

Children’s Division Director Tim Decker said in a statement that he appreciates work by Nixon and lawmakers to help “victims and their families access the services they need.”

Oesterly said the measure will mean the agency can help victims and intervene early if a child is acting out sexually, potentially stemming a lifetime of abuse.

Nixon said the provision came from recommendations from a state taskforce on child sexual abuse prevention.

The measure also calls for a number of other new policies aimed at improving child safety.

Those include a requirement that licensed day cares that watch children less than a year old must adopt and implement written policies on safe sleep practices. The goal is to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, the risk of which the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends can be reduced by placing babies on their backs to sleep, among other sleeping guidelines.

The legislation requires day cares, preschools and nurseries to inform parents or legal guardians upon request if children attending the centers have exemptions to immunization requirements. The measure also adds victims of sexual assault to the list of individuals who can ask for a personal protection order, and will require public and charter schools to publicly post the phone number for a child abuse and neglect hotline.

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The child sexual abuse bill is SB 341.

Online:

Senate: https://www.senate.mo.gov

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Follow Summer Ballentine: https://www.twitter.com/esballentine

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