SAN DIEGO — Youth organizations in California hoping for the security blanket of an insurance policy would be required to adopt and implement child abuse prevention strategies to receive insurance under new legislation introduced Tuesday by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego).
The bill, AB 506, would also require youth organization volunteers to be certified as mandatory reporters -- so they can report incidents -- if they volunteer more than 16 hours a month or 32 hours in a year.
"The organization itself can't just say, well, we didn't know these volunteers, they didn't know. It adds a little teeth to it so we can prevent this from ever happening again," said ASM Gonzalez.
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara noted that abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America, for example, span several decades.
The Boy Scouts filed for bankruptcy in February 2020 after multiple abuse lawsuits.
"Our insurance companies can play a critical role in preventing child abuse through better volunteer training and reporting," Lara said.
Gonzalez said this stems from a 2019 bill she passed that extends that statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sex abuse. She also said that after litigation Boy Scouts of America was dropped from insurance coverage.
"They [Boy Scouts of America] knew a lot of these allegations and nobody was required to report them because they were volunteers. We're not going to allow that anymore. We need to protect our children," said Gonzalez.
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan says she hasn't read the proposed bill but supports expanding mandated reporters.
State law mandates teachers, social workers, police officers and clergy to report child abuse to law enforcement.
"Mandated reporters are critical to interrupt a cycle of abuse to intervene before abuse happens by spotting the red flags and the signs," said Stephan.
She says during the pandemic child abuse reports are down 40 percent which is not a good sign since many mandated reporters are not able to visit children in person.
"Child abuse especially and internet crimes against children have gone up," said Stephan.
A spokesperson for the county says the numbers may be skewed since it switched over to a more advanced cloud based call center software system and Hotline staff moving to teleworking. She says fewer dropped calls and call backs are being made leading to a reduction in calls to the Hotline.
Advocates hope this will add another layer of protection. "Our number one priority should be keeping children safe," said Gonzalez.
If you suspect child abuse you can call the local number at (858) 560-2191 or the state hotline at (800) 344-6000.
To learn more about mandated reporter training click here.