Youth Services Law

Changes to Georgia Child Abuse Registry

New Law Ahead

Effective January 1, 2020, Georgia has enacted much-needed changes to its child abuse registry. First, only adults will be listed, rather than the old age limit of 13. It is not clear what will happen to the minors already listed on the registry.

The second, and more far-reaching, change is that the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) can no longer immediately place someone on the list. Rather, DFCS must notify the alleged abuser of the Division’s conclusion and give him or her 30 days (as opposed to 10 under the old rules) to file an appeal with an administrative law judge. It is only after the decision on appeal that the Division can place the person on the registry. This change will prevent the old, and very unjust, scenario, where a bureaucratic decision left a person on the registry, usually depriving them of their livelihood, while they were fighting the designation in court.

The new statute also allows the local district attorney to request postponement of administrative hearings if the hearing would impact a criminal prosecution. I have little experience with the interplay between the registry and criminal prosecutions, but I've known both prosecuting and defense attorneys to be reluctant to participate in administrative hearings under the old rules because they did not want to compromise the criminal case. This new provision should allay those concerns. Furthermore, because the accused person is not on the registry until after the administrative hearings conclude, we can avoid the problems I have seen where the accused person is acquitted of criminal charges long after being placed on the registry. Despite the acquittal, placing them on the registry instantly stripped them of their livelihood.

Finally, the law provides for a more objective procedure for being expunged from the registry. Anyone placed on the registry must wait three years, but then can file a written request with DFCS for a hearing before an administrative judge. The judge can order that a person be removed from the registry, after considering such things as the circumstances of the alleged abuse, the seriousness of the harm to the child, the risk to the community, the impact to the person’s employment, and any rehabilitation that the person has undertaken.

All in all, the new law is a very positive step forward. It allows authorities to weed out people who truly need to be restricted from working with children, while allowing innocent and rehabilitated caretakers to preserve their livelihoods.

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