Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz today announced the implementation of a policy in Erie County Child Protective Services (“CPS”) to allow designated employees to access social network sites for the purpose of conducting a safety assessment or investigation. The social-media policy, believed to be one of the first instituted by a child protective agency in New York State, is being used in cases with an increased safety risk to the child.

“Many times alleged perpetrators of child abuse have information on a social media site which would indicate their children are not being well cared for,” said Poloncarz.“Designated CPS staff now has a directive that allows them to search for this type of information and use this information in their investigation, possibly leading to a court action. This policy provides CPS staff specific criteria for accessing social media sites for information pertinent to the investigation. The volume of information contained on social media sites is vast and growing every day so these criteria will be used to target our searches.  As with any new policy, it will be evaluated to determine its level of effectiveness.”

CPS is only allowed to search social media outlets for information in which the individual has made no attempt to limit access to the data and the data is able to be accessed by the general public without the authorization of the creator. CPS cannot investigate based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, citizenship, place of origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. Employees can only seek information on social network sites concerning children named in a CPS report, the subject of the report, or other persons named in the report.

“Enactment of this social-media policy is just one example of the numerous initiatives the Department of Social Services has implemented to strengthen CPS practice in the last several months,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer. “There have been 18 positions added to CPS, caseworkers have been placed in area hospitals, and we have partnered with Central Police Services to improve caseworkers’ interviewing skills. In addition, we have recently requested the Legislature allow the temporary hiring of six retired child protective workers as part-time employees, and reestablish the Erie County Community Coordinating Council on Children and Families. We continue to remain vigilant on behalf of our community’s children.”

In February 2014, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services released an audit showing substantial improvement to Erie County CPS since their previous audit in November 2013.  Additionally, the Poloncarz administration is currently working on a package of legislative reforms to the Child Protective Services system statewide.