House lawmakers voted this week toward ending abuse of children in residential care facilities managed by religious organizations – abuse that lawmakers called “horrific,” and amounting to “torture.”
House Bills 557 & 560 would eliminate the exemption from state supervision for such homes.
“There’s no background checks, there’s no right to go in and check on the children, there’s no requirement they keep medical records, there was no right to go in and have eyes on the children, and there was absolutely no control over these homes,” said bill sponsor Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville). “These homes, all you had to say was it was a religious organization … and you couldn’t even check into whether it was a recognized religious organization.”
Lee’s Summit representative Keri Ingle (D), who filed an identical bill, said Missouri is one of the only states that doesn’t oversee religious-based youth homes. Because of that, bad actors have been coming here and then seeking out children with behavioral issues, mental issues, or whose needs weren’t being met.
She said parents would send their children to these homes, “I think, most of the time, with the full intent of getting a child out of a really desperate situation and getting them the help that they needed. Unfortunately, that trust was completely violated and these children were tortured. There’s really no other way to describe it.”
She and other lawmakers heard in committee hearings from children who had been abused in these homes.
“The things that have been told to me by survivors across the country … described rape, described forcing children to have abortions, described stripping children of their dignity and their self-respect, their belief in God, their belief in love, forced children to fight other children, locked children in closets, forced children to stand in manure and forced children to do hard labor,” said Ingle.
The legislation would require those homes to provide background checks for all employees; notify the state of their location; and allow Social Services to see children when abuse is suspected.
It would not allow the state to change a home’s religious teachings or foundation. Viet said he believes that religious-based youth homes, when run properly and honestly, can benefit children.
“I actually know some children who have been in some of these homes and I’ve talked to judges, and they do a great service, but if we don’t take care of and prevent the bad apples they’re going to ruin it for everyone,” said Veit.
The bill would go into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor.
The house voted 148-0 to send it to the Senate.