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Senate Panel Looking into State Custody Laws

A senate review panel is looking into state policy following the death of two year old Dezirae Sheldon
 It’s still early in the process for state senators working to improve Vermont’s child custody laws. The main question is whether the order of custody among family members needs tweaking.

Chief Administrative Judge Amy Davenport heard from judges across the state who make custody decisions. Some said hierarchy isn’t the issue. In some cases it’s the lack of any good options to place the child

“Alternatives are not great,” Davenport says.

Judge Davenport explained where Vermont’s judicial system plays a key role in custody cases

She says most judges undergo juvenile procedure training before they can take a case in Vermont. She also adds there are disagreements over which family member receives custody in 15 to 20 percent of cases. If that happens, judges can ask for a suitability assessment of family member vying for custody.

“You want to keep the child safe and you want to minimize trauma,” Judge Davenport explained. “You have to balance all of those things in trying to get to the right decision.

Lawmakers also came with other concerns. Senator Kevin Mullen says he’s heard there are regional differences in seizing children from unfit homes.

“There have been a number of legislators from Franklin County that believe it's just the opposite; that the child gets taken away too quickly from the home.”

Others also want to take a close look at changing confidentiality laws in juvenile proceedings. They say the laws make it hard to ensure enough has been done to ensure a child’s safety after an abuse report.

 Senator Mullen also says he wants the committee to take its time reviewing custody policies to ensure parts of the system that already work won’t be undone.

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