Tennessee makes list of possible child abusers available to general public

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(Photo: WKRN)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The state of Tennessee is making a new list being available to the public intended to help keep your kids safer, but it’s led some to wonder if it’s fair to make these names public.

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has for many years kept an internal list of people involved in child abuse or neglect cases. These are not necessarily people who’ve been charged with a crime. The list was formerly only available to organizations like schools or daycares, but is now being made available to the public.

Childhelp Children’s Center of East Tennessee is a non-profit in Knoxville that helps children who are victims of abuse. When director Hugh Nystrom looks to hire staff, he runs the names by a DCS database.

“We partner with Children’s Services to do our background checks. We want to make sure we never hire someone who has hurt a child in the past,” Nystrom explained.

Organizations like schools and daycares use the same database.

“The Department of Children’s Services conducts an investigation. This is a parallel investigation to the one done by law enforcement. So you have two parallel trains regulating all investigations involving children. What the department would do is if they found evidence that there was abuse of a child, they would indicate somebody. And indicate means you would be put on an internal list,” explained legal analyst Greg Isaacs.

Now the internal list has been made public. Anyone can go in and search for a name online, finding a person that may have never been charged with a crime.

That raises questions about how the people on the list are viewed.

“The general public or prospective employers could construe this as a conviction. I’ve seen cases where teachers have placed their hands on a child’s neck and have been indicated for child abuse. There’s a danger now if you’re on that list made public, that employers, grandparents, neighbors, apartment complexes could lump you in with people on the sex offender registry,” Isaacs added.

At Childhelp, they say no amount of caution is too much caution when it comes to kids and abuse.

“As parents and people around children, we always have to be vigilant. Because guess what: there’s going to be a case of child abuse tomorrow and the next day. It’s up to parents and people around children to be constantly vigilant about protecting kids,” Nystrom said, about the public being able to access the registry.

The list went online July 1, but it is not a retroactive list. That means anyone who had their name on the confidential list prior to March 15 will not have their name made public. DCS says they did that because they wanted to notify everyone who’d have their name made public.

Anyone who makes it on the list has the right to an appeal.

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