A Debate Over Tougher Laws to Protect Abused and Neglected Children

Melissa Geremen
Melissa Geremen
Frank O'Brien
Frank O'Brien
Lillian Koller
Lillian Koller

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- The brutal murder of an Oahu toddler has people across Hawaii calling for tougher laws to protect abused and neglected children.

The inspiration for the two sets of proposed bills to protect our keiki is, of course, Cyrus Belt.  The toddler was thrown to his death from a freeway overpass last week.

That Miller Street overpass has become a growing memorial for Baby Cyrus.  They continue to leave behind toys, balloons, and other tokens of their love.  Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers said they wanted to do something as well, and they did it by introducing new legislation.

Cyrus Belt's death continues to touch the people of Hawaii.

"It really hurts me and means so much to me, because I have nieces, cousins, everybody who mean so much to me," said Melissa Ghremen, a Palolo Valley resident.

The baby's death has also moved Hawaii lawmakers.  They introduced two different sets of bills, designed to help Child Protective Services (CPS) better do its job.

The first bill (SB 3055/HB3133) would make it mandatory for family members to report incidents of child abuse or neglect.

The second bill (SB 3056/HB3134) would add $1.9 million for CPS follow up visits, but family law attorney Frank O'Brien says the focus should not be on new laws.

"If today we had the resources to fully implement all the laws that are on the books, we wouldn't need anything else," said O'Brien. "It's not so much a matter of laws, as it is a matter of resources. It's always great to talk about passing laws, we're going to make things tougher, we're going to make things more restrictive, but a law without the resources to enforce it and implement it and do the good that they intend, is no better than no law at all."

O'Brien said CPS employees are stretched to the limit and are not able to adequately serve Hawaii's children.

"CPS is faced with an overwhelming problem because they have so many calls, so many things to do," he said.  "There certainly are enough statutes in place to do their role. The problem they have is they don't have enough people. They don't have enough money to get people in place to do the things they need to do."

State officials acknowledge fixing the system to prevent another Cyrus Belt case is challenging.

"But we will be able to strengthen our system so that children who are placed in harm's way through neglect could have a better response," said Lillian Koller, director for the department of human services.

A better response to help other potential Cyruses out there.

"There are children every day who are physically abused, sexually abused, neglected, and every one of those cases is as fully tragic and calls for as much attention as Cyrus' case because any of those cases could end up where Cyrus' case ended up," said O'Brien.

As lawmakers consider bills that would help Hawaii's children, many hope something positive comes out of Cyrus' death.

All those involved say the goal is clear: do their best to prevent another Cyrus Belt case from happening in our state.