Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Commissioner of Social Services Carol Dankert-Maurer to detail a package of legislative reforms designed to improve the provision of Child Protective Services (“CPS”) to children and families across New York State. Each reform was presented in the form of proposed legislation along with a sponsor’s memorandum and will be sent by the County Executive to members of the WNY delegation to the NYS Legislature as well as to the Chairpersons of the NYS Senate and NYS Assembly Committees of Children and Families. The memorandum can be read here . The nineteen reforms in the 63-page package are the result of extensive research by the Department of Social Services into all CPS functions, and fall into five categories: Increasing CPS Powers to Help Children; Improving the Quality of Reporting to the Statewide Central Register (“SCR”); Punishing Abusers and Protecting Children; Modernizing the Child Welfare System; and Other Critical Reforms.
“These reforms are vital to bringing New York State’s Child Protective Services system into the 21st century and will aid immediately in the investigation and prosecution of suspected abuse. When CPS law was created over 40 years ago, there was no conception of either the challenges the law would face today or the tools available to help it meet those challenges,” said Poloncarz. “Today, we are leading the way for CPS reform statewide with a comprehensive package of proposals that is common-sense, easy to implement, and long overdue. Passage of these reforms will ensure a stronger system to protect children, not just in Erie County, but statewide. I call on the NYS Legislature to make our children safer by enacting this legislation into state law.”
The proposed legislation seeks to:
- create a new felony crime of endangering the welfare of a child, boosting the current misdemeanor penalty from one year in jail to up to seven years in jail if there are aggravating circumstances;
- increase CPS powers to help children by creating a presumption of neglect if there is an incident of excessive corporal punishment, which will make it easier for child protection agencies to make a finding of abuse that will allow Family Court to take appropriate action to protect a child, up to removing a child when a guardian poses a risk to the child;
- create a presumption of neglect against a parent when a child is born with a positive toxicology for controlled substances;
- allow the Department of Social Services to subpoena records held by private entities (such as hospitals) for use in any investigation of any report received from the State Central Register relating to abuse or neglect and require state and local agencies including the state police and the state division of criminal justice services to provide information contained in their databases within 72 hours of a request about locations and persons alleged to have been involved in abuse or neglect of a child. This will allow for more complete and rapid investigations.
- increase the criminal penalties to a felony for knowingly making false allegations of suspected abuse or neglect of a child and also establish a civil penalty for making false allegations of suspected abuse or neglect of a child;
- require that the technology used by the state be upgraded to allow for the state hotline to receive photographs and other documents in electronic format and to forward them to the county conducting an investigation and to allow each county to upload photographs and documents into the case file;
- require that all calls to the statewide central registry of child abuse and maltreatment be recorded in an audio format and that recording be forwarded to each county CPS at the commencement of an investigation;
- require mandated reporters to receive coursework or training about child abuse and neglect every three years.;
- allow local child protective services district to refuse to contract with informal day care providers when such provider is the subject of an indicated report of child abuse or maltreatment or is a registered sex offender;
- require hospitals and birthing centers to show a video and provide a brochure to the parents of a newborn child about the dangers of unsafe sleeping practices;
- require that civil service exams for all positions within the child protective service be offered by the New York State Civil Service Commission on a priority basis upon a certification by a local personnel commissioner that such immediate action is needed, and;
- make a series of other changes to improve the quality, timeliness and operations of the child protective service.
Published reports indicate the extent to which child abuse and neglect are happening in communities all across NYS, with over 150 serious CPS incidents reported in the media statewide since October 2013. The New York City area led NYS in that time with thirteen such incidents, while Onondaga county had eleven and Suffolk had eight. Oswego and St. Lawrence counties reported seven serious incidents each. Erie and Orange counties each had six incidents in that span, four other counties reported five incidents each, and forty counties had four incidents or fewer. Only Allegany and Hamilton counties had no reported serious CPS incidents during that time.
Social Services Commissioner Dankert-Maurer said, “These long-needed reforms will strengthen CPS investigations by providing workers with accurate and up-to-date information on the individuals and homes they are visiting, toughening penalties against abusers, and fortifying the reporting system to diminish false reports. With these reforms we will have the ability to expedite interactions with families and better protect vulnerable children.”
Poloncarz continued, “In today’s data-driven informational age, there is no reason why a CPS case worker should not have the most complete and current information at their fingertips as they are investigating a case. Sharing of vital information is essential to the investigative process, and helps caseworkers to form a complete picture of who is in the homes they are visiting and what is going on there. These reforms streamline information sharing, strengthen investigations, and create tougher penalties for certain violations so we can better protect children.”
This comprehensive package of proposed state legislation is part of the Erie County Child Protective Services reform efforts. Erie County has previously taken other actions to improve CPS services including the hiring of more CPS workers, the reorganization of CPS teams, the strengthening of the upper management of the Department of Social Services, a series of disciplinary actions against a number of workers and supervisors, the institution of a social media strategy to be used in support of investigations and other steps.