State Rep. Sheila Solon and the members of her House Children and Families Committee have released a set of recommendations designed to ensure the health and well-being of children at unlicensed youth residential facilities. Solon, who chairs the committee, said the recommendations are meant to end the cycle of abuse that has occurred in unlicensed facilities in Missouri.

Solon’s committee held a public hearing Nov. 9 to discuss the issue. Much of the testimony was focused on the abuse that occurred at the Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch in Cedar County. Individuals testifying at the hearing made it clear the state provides no oversight over therapeutic facilities that are in effect private religious facilities. The information provided at the hearing caused Solon and the members of the committee to conclude that Missouri has numerous facilities that have abused vulnerable children in their care with no state oversight for many years.

“The lack of oversight and enforcement has sent a terrible message that nobody cares about these vulnerable young people. As lawmakers, it is our duty to do all we can to protect them and to take every step possible to ensure more children do not suffer similar abuse,” said Solon, R-St. Joseph. “The recommendations we have endorsed as a committee represent commonsense reforms that can and will protect the children who have been forgotten and neglected by our system.”

Some of the recommendations put forth by the committee include:

·         Requiring facilities in Missouri that care for children away from their parents or guardians on a residential basis to abide by minimal health and safety requirements in order to operate;

·         Instituting a one-time registration requirement with the Department of Social Services for any facility that is not otherwise licensed by the state;

·         Including in the registration process proof that the facility has and will continue to conduct Missouri State Highway patrol fingerprint background checks of all owners, operators, employees, and volunteers; and

·         Requiring the Department of Social Services to maintain a report or public website where the public can see licensed and registered facilities and reports of substantiated cases of child abuse or other criminal complaints.