MONTPELIER, Vt. — A special legislative committee set up to investigate the state child welfare system after two toddlers’ deaths plans to propose a law to prioritize the best interest of the child over keeping families intact.

Despite a stated policy by the Department for Children and Families that the interests of the child should be paramount, the committee heard during months of deliberations that many social workers were putting reunification first when working with troubled families.

“The paramount goal is always going to be the best interests of the child,” state Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, the co-chair of the Legislature’s special Committee on Child Protection, said Tuesday at the Statehouse. “Some of the testimony that we heard was that it isn’t always in the best interest of the child: that reunification with one or both parents is the paramount goal.”

The testimony prompted the committee to develop a series of proposals, including the creation of a reunification hierarchy based on a Massachusetts model. The new process would include the parents but also enables officials to consider aunts, uncles and grandparents or other nonfamily members such as a teacher or friend of a parent.

The committee is also going to recommend loosening privacy requirements so that officials from different agencies involved with the same family, such as social workers, police and teachers, could share information. Privacy laws now prohibit them from doing so.

The committee began looking into the system after the deaths of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski in April, both of whom had been involved with DCF. Second-degree murder charges have been filed against Dezirae’s stepfather and Peighton’s mother. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The Vermont Citizens Advisory Board, which conducted a separate investigation of the children’s deaths, issued its own report Friday that also found too much emphasis on reuniting children with their families.

Sears said after reviewing the board’s report that his committee reached many of the same conclusions.

“I think the only major differences that I’ve been able to find are regional differences (in practices by DCF offices) that our committee heard, probably because we went out and held nine different public hearings around the state,” Sears said.

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