Michigan mom’s long fight for child abuse protections signed into law

‘Wyatt’s law’ signed into law, creating statewide child abuse registry in Michigan
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 6:35 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - For years, one Michigan mother fought for parents and guardians to get the information she didn’t have to protect her son.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of legislation on May 5 known as “Wyatt’s Law,” which will create a public child abuse registry.

The passing of Wyatt’s Law didn’t happen overnight. It was an uphill battle that took nearly eight years to overcome. But to understand how it finally happened, you have to go back to 2013.

Wyatt’s Law: The fight for an online child abuse registry

Erica Hammel and her ex-husband were filing for divorce. Hammel’s then 1-year-old son, Wyatt, became the center of a custody battle between Hammel, her ex-husband and his girlfriend Rachel Edwards.

“Once I filed for divorce and we had to go through court for custody I was hearing rumors about her,” Hammel said. “And it put like a bad feeling inside of me.”

After hearing disturbing rumors about Edwards, Hammel’s maternal instincts kicked in. She started researching anything she could find about her but after unsuccessful attempts to find anything, Hammel put the issue to rest. She said she just hoped and prayed that her suspicions were wrong.

However, on Nov. 1, 2013, Hammel’s worst nightmare became a reality. She received a phone call from her ex-husband that Wyatt had been rushed to the hospital.

Wyatt suffered a major brain bleed and fractured skull caused by nonaccidental head trauma commonly known as “Shaken Baby Syndrome.” Doctors declared homicide as they didn’t think the infant would survive his injuries.

Edwards was convicted of abusing Wyatt.

“I was told that she had been previously convicted, of two prior counts of child abuse,” said Hammel.

Hammel’s hunch turned out to be true but at the time there was no way to find the data online that would back up her suspicions. There was no way of knowing that a convicted child abuser was around her child.

“Why do people that sexually abuse children have to register but not people that physically abuse children?” asked Hammel. “So that’s where the beginning of this journey started.”

Hammel has fought for nearly a decade to make a child abuse registry a reality. She wanted parents in Michigan to have access to the information she didn’t have access to about Edwards. That’s something she says could’ve prevented Wyatt’s abuse.

Alec Brace, Executive Director of Small Talk Children’s Advocacy Center in Lansing, said this law will give parents access they need to make informed decisions about who their children are around. He said it is not a fool-proof system, but it is a huge step towards further protecting Michigan children.

“It can’t be fool-proof, you know, somebody who abuse children just isn’t reported, they wouldn’t be in the system,” Brace said. “So we still have to be vigilant.”

Wyatt survived his abuse. Today, he lives a happy life. However, the extent of his injuries requires constant medical attention.

“He will never be normal because of what she did to him,” said Hammel.

But Hammel is hopeful Wyatt’s Law will help protect children just like Wyatt.

Wyatt’s Law passed the Michigan House with unanimous approval before reaching Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk. She signed the law during Child Abuse Awareness month.

Copyright 2022 WILX. All rights reserved.

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