Bill aimed at reducing parental kidnapping

By Patrick Lally/Staff Writer

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A bill introduced to the state legislature would make it harder for
parents without legal custody of their children to hide the whereabouts
of their child, state Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, said.

The measures included in An Act Protecting a Minor’s Identity prevent a
child from registering in public schools under any name other than what’s
given on their birth certificate.

While parents are required to show a child’s birth certificate to
register in a public school, Polito said, the school district has no
authority to decline a parent’s request to register a child under a
different name.

“It’s a loophole in the law that – in my opinion – needs to be closed so
that we have a strong record for that particular child that will travel
with the child through the school,” Polito said.

Carolyn Atwell-Davis, director of legislative affairs of the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that more than 200,000
child abductions each year are perpetrated by family members.

“If they enroll a child in public school, you could see why they would
want to change the name,” Atwell-Davis said.

Atwell-Davis’s organization supports the bill, as does the School Nurses
Association and Chief Justice Sean M. Dunphy of the Probate and Family
Court.

Polito said she became involved in this issue about two years ago, when
former Shrewsbury school nurse Alma Shanley contacted her.

“We receive flyers explaining similar situations like this one in the
mail all the time. We read newspaper stories of children who are missing.
Children cannot always speak for themselves. We need to do that,” Shanley
said.

Shanley experienced firsthand the laxness of current laws several years
ago.

In 2001 testimony to members of the education committee, Shanley recalled
her interactions with Harry Smith and his mother after the two moved to
town from Florida. Although Harry’s social security information and
paperwork identified him as Harry Jones, his mother asked to register him
as Smith because she had just remarried. Shanley met Harry when he began
school. She became concerned when Harry told her that he was hungry and
his mother wasn’t married to Mr. Smith.

In a meeting with Mrs. Smith, Shanley’s “worst fears were realized,” she
said, when Mrs. Smith admitted that she had recently been released from
jail and didn’t have legal custody of her son.

Harry was returned to his grandmother in Florida.

“If we had changed the paperwork to Smith, a new identity would have
begun. He could have moved from our school to another with the new
identity and it would begin to get very difficult for someone to find him
if there should be a need,” Shanley said.

Polito filed the bill last year, but it did not pass after concerns
regarding contact of non-custodial parents about legal name changes. The
representative said she hopes those issues have been cleared up and that
the bill will pass.

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