State News

Child protection reform bill becomes law

By Elizabeth Hewitt,

Flanked by dozens of lawmakers, state officials and others, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Monday, June 15, a bill that addresses wide-ranging aspects of Vermont’s child protection system.

Lawmakers first began work on S.9 more than a year ago, following the deaths of Dezirae Sheldon, 2, and Peighton Geraw, 14 months — two young children who had been in contact with the Department for Children and Families.

Shumlin hailed the legislation as a step toward improving the state’s child protection mechanisms at a time when the system is under increasing pressure, linked to the use of opiates and other drugs.

“This bill does not mean that Vermont will succeed every time,” Shumlin said. “What it does assure us is that a more seamless support system will work together to protect every child in Vermont and give us a better shot at success.”

The bill makes changes to a broad set of aspects to the child protection system, from DCF social workers, to special investigative units, to criminal penalties. The new law changes the standard for deciding on child custody so that focus will be on “the best interest of the child” instead of on reunifying a child with his or her parents.

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