The arrival of December brought several new laws regarding child protection into effect in North Carolina. The laws were passed during the last session of the North Carolina’s General Assembly.
According to Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, more than 134,000 children from the state were referred to department of social service agencies between the summer of 2011 and 2012. Both lawmakers and advocates are hoping at least three of the laws that went into effect Sunday will work toward reducing that number.
Among the laws beginning this week is Kilah’s Law. It was named for Kilah Davenport, a Charlotte-area girl who was allegedly almost beaten to death by her stepfather. The law now increases the penalties for those convicted of felony child abuse, more than doubling the prison time for those convicted on the most severe charges from 15 to 33 years in custody.
“In 2012, there were 1,775 reports of child abuse in Lincoln County alone,” Sherry Reinhardt, Executive Director of Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse, said. “So it definitely needs to be taken seriously because it really affects our community. Those children are children everyone knows. They’re in our churches sitting next to us, at our local sporting events in the bleachers and sitting next to our children at lunch. We’re all connected.”
Child protection laws Caylee’s Law and Lily’s Law also went into effect Sunday.
Caylee’s Law honors Caylee Anthony, the Florida toddler who went missing in 2008 and was not reported missing by her mother for nearly a month. When Caylee was found dead, her mother, Casey Anthony, was tried for her murder. Caylee’s Law now makes the failure to report the disappearance of a child a felony.
“A lot of kids fall through the cracks, especially if there’s no accountability,” Reinhardt said. “We’re happy that we’re getting some accountability for child abuse and taking care of children.”
Reinhardt hopes that during the next session, the General Assembly focuses on prevention and education aspects of child abuse.
“It should be just as important to teach your child about safety and how to keep themselves safe as it is to buckle your child in a car seat,” she said.
Lily’s Law was designed to honor Lillian Broom of Alamance County. The infant died in 2008 after being delivered prematurely when her father shot her mother in the abdomen. The law now states that a person can face murder charges for injuring a baby in the womb if the child succumbs to those injuries after birth.
“We’re very excited about these laws and that people are taking this more seriously,” Reinhardt said. “The key to addressing child abuse is having the mindset that it even exists. It’s not just something that happens to other children.”
“I’m glad that the legislature has decided to get tougher on acts of child abuse with Kilah’s Law,” Assistant District Attorney Lydia Hoza said. “That pleases me as a prosecutor of these offenses, knowing that it isn’t just a slap on the wrist. It’s a serious crime with a very serious punishment….this makes the punishment fit the act regardless of the criminal record.”