Gov. Matt Mead signed into law Tuesday a bill limiting the release of information regarding child abuse investigations.
When child abuse or neglect cases are reported to law enforcement, victims are interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Project in Casper. Those interviews are recorded.
House Bill 180 prohibits the showing of those recordings in non-criminal court proceedings, like during a divorce case, unless deemed appropriate by a judge.
“If we do one thing well in this state, we certainly want to do a good job of protecting our kids,” Gov. Mead said just prior to signing the bill at the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Casper. “And when something tragic happens, we certainly want to hold the perpetrator or perpetrators accountable, and that requires the foundation and security that this bill provides.”
The nonprofit Children’s Advocacy Project works with law enforcement agencies across the state on cases involving child maltreatment. Children are interviewed one-on-one at the center’s facility by licensed counselors, said Heather Ross, director.
The interview, called a forensic interview, provides child victims an opportunity to speak about abuse so investigators can obtain information necessary to conduct their investigation, Ross said. The recordings of those interviews are then used in criminal proceedings to prosecute the perpetrator.
The bill requires that a judge watch the interview to determine if it’s necessary to show the recording during a civil court case, such as a divorce involving custody matters.
The bill helps further the Child Advocacy Project's goal to provide as comfortable an atmosphere as possible for children, Mead said.
“So there’s not a fear that if the child says, ‘Mom did this’ or ‘Dad did this,’ that somehow that’s going to be used in a civil matter,” Mead said. “What it provides is security and freedom in those interviews to make sure you get all the facts and that there’s not some guarded information that the child is directed by a parent or guardian not to reveal.”
If a judge decides the recording is necessary in a civil case, they can now forbid anyone from making a copy of the interview and sharing it with others, Ross said.
Under Wyoming statue, a person found guilty of sharing confidential information of a child abuse case would face up to six months in prison.
State Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, and Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, were among those who sponsored the bill and attended the signing.
“I think it’s great for the kids here in Wyoming to be able to have this place to go and discuss what’s taken place and do so in confidence,” Walters said.
Ross said she appreciated the legislators’ hard work.
“It makes me realize that they really look at our local communities and what we need to have in our local communities,” Ross said. “Protecting our most vulnerable children is most at stake, and they recognize that.”