April 28, 2014 9:31:28 AM
JACKSON -- Beginning July 1, Mississippi mental health care professionals will report if a committed individual has children or has visitation with minors. The information goes the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the agency responsible for child protection issues.
The new law is the third in three years enacted by lawmakers for the protection of children.
Rep. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, says the new law can help prevent children from being left in the care of a mentally ill parent. Bain, the lead sponsor of House Bill 810, describes it is another means of reporting possible child endangerment situations.
It took a tragedy in Alcorn County to spur action.
Eleven-year-old Andrew Loyd, after whom the new law is named, was killed by his father, Billy Loyd, in their Farmington apartment in 2012. Bain said the incident occurred about three days after Billy Loyd was released from the local community mental health center. Billy Loyd took his own life after killing his son.
Just months before the killing, Billy was involved in a standoff with police at their Farmington apartment while Andrew was at home. Billy voluntarily checked into a mental health clinic after surrendering, but was cleared and left a few days later to return to the home he shared with his son.
"We're aiming to find out on the front end whether someone going through the commitment process has children. It is just another question the person screening an individual will ask," Bain said.
Mississippi Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julia Bryan said the agency is process of "making sure our policy is in line with the intent of the legislation and will be fully prepared to implement any changes necessary."
Bain said the law addresses when someone is committed, when they go through a pre-evaluation, and under the bill, the patient must answer more questions than they do now.
"It asks if you're married and stuff like that, but it doesn't ask if you have any children. So we mandate now for it to ask if you have any children and your access to them," said Bain. "Basically we're just trying to get the notice out."
Under current law, the MDHS has authority to investigate and determine if the child is in danger and whether the child should be placed in protective custody or with another relative.
"In my view, there is not enough reporting when it comes to protecting children," Bain said.
Bain's bill comes on the heels of child protection legislation enacted in 2012 and 2013.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Child Protection Act in 2012. The law specifies that, when child abuse is suspected, "mandatory reporters" such as any "health care practitioner, clergy member, teaching or child care provider, law enforcement officer, or commercial image processor" must report their suspicions to police.
Any mandatory reporter who fails to report suspected child sexual abuse will be fined $500 on first offense. Penalties rise to $5,000 fines and one year in jail for third and any subsequent offenses.
Bryant signed the "Lonnie Smith Law" in 2013. The law was named for the Jackson County boy who is a wheelchair user for life after his mother dipped him in a bathtub of scalding hot water several times in 2008.
Supporters of the law said it bridges the gap between the medical and legal definitions of child abuse.
It takes a stair-step approach to penalizing those found in violation of the law. It also ties the criminal act with the injury suffered by the child to reach an appropriate legal punishment.
Sylvia Smith, the boy's mother, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
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