Selectman rips draft of new abuse policy

Foxborough’s town manager has unveiled a new child abuse reporting policy in response to allegations that a former teacher, swim coach, and Boy Scout leader molested dozens of young boys over several decades without being reported, or stopped.

“This is a good policy,’’ Kevin Paicos said Tuesday as selectmen had their first look at the four-page document that the manager said took three months, and expert input, to prepare.

But dismay over the report was evident immediately, as the board’s chairman, James DeVellis, criticized it for focusing primarily on physical abuse and neglect, and said it falls far short of expectations.

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“The direction was to address a sexual abuse reporting policy, and that is barely in here anywhere,’’ DeVellis said, waving the packet of papers in the air.

“This is probably the most important issue to come through this town,” he said. “I am about to blow my top.”

Last fall, more than 30 men told police that former resident William E. Sheehan, now in a Florida nursing home, preyed on them, repeatedly, when they were children — both on and off town property.

Paicos said he pieced the policy together using one borrowed from the outpatient addiction treatment facility where Selectwoman Lorraine Brue works, and also advice from town department heads. Nothing like this exists anywhere, he said, adding: “I am not an expert.”

Selectwoman Lynda Walsh said any policy needs specifics, and she questioned a key component that directs staff to report suspected incidents of abuse to the town’s human resources director, and not the police.

Paicos said he chose that chain of command to protect employees who are afraid to voice concerns for fear of being held liable.

But Walsh said protection is exactly what the town is trying to get away from.

“If you see something, you have to report it,” she said, stating she had offered to help Paicos put the policy together but he turned her down.

“This is very important to me,” Walsh said.

Paicos apologized to selectmen and said he must have had an unclear understanding of what they had in mind. T

His comment drew a heated response from resident Deborah Stewart, who said she was so upset watching the conversation on live cable TV that she got out of bed and drove to Town Hall to speak.

“You don’t have to have a PhD in social services to know when a child has been abused,’’ she said, adding she didn’t think the reporting policy goes far enough to protect children. “Somebody didn’t do their homework. And at a time when we are facing all the allegations about Sheehan? This is all we could come up with? Give me a break.”

Brue supported Paicos’s work, saying a reporting policy for all kinds of abuse is a community necessity.

But DeVellis tabled the policy discussion and said it will go back on the agenda after an expert is hired to help devise a new policy.

“The town needs to come up with something that is worth the paper it’s printed on,’’ he said. “This is useless to me.”

Selectmen asked Paicos in January to prepare the reporting policy so the community would see they are taking the Sheehan allegations seriously.

The town manager was also directed to arrange training for town employees to learn to identify and prevent sexual abuse.

Paicos said last week that training has already taken place for all town employees through the Darkness to Light program offered by the Hockomock Area YMCA.

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