BILL NUMBER: S2448
TITLE OF BILL :
An act to amend the social services law, in relation to release of
certain records associated with abuse and neglect cases to court
appointed special advocates
To provide Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) with access to
certain records associated with child abuse, neglect or foster care
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS :
Section 1 amends Social Services Law §422 (4) paragraph A by adding a
new subsection (aa) to include CASA on the list of entities with
access to specific child protective records necessary for CASA to
fulfill the functions for which it was appointed by the court upon
notice and an opportunity to be heard by all parties.
Section 2 amends Social Services Law §372(4) by adding a new paragraph
(C) to include on the list of entities with access to specific child
protective records necessary for CASA to fulfill the functions for
which it was appointed by the court upon notice and an opportunity to
be heard by all parties.
Section 3 set the effective date.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a volunteer based program
of advocates for children in Family Court proceedings who have been
abused, neglected or are at risk. These specially trained and closely
supervised volunteers, appointed directly by Family Court judges, get
to know each child and report to the Family Court in great detail
about the child's circumstances. They ensure that children receive
adequate medical and educational attention, access to any other
necessary services, and help ensure that court orders are being
followed. Nationally, the CASA network involves over 58,000
volunteers, having served over 2 million children since its inception
in 1977. The New York State CASA network began in 1979 and currently
has 22 CASA programs serving 33 counties in New York State. In 2007,
over 800 volunteers donated more than 90,000 hours serving almost
4,000 of New York's most vulnerable children.
Part §43.0 of the Rules of the Chief Judge of New York State says
"recognizing the vital role that a Court Appointed Special Advocates
program ("CASA program") can perform in aiding Family Court efforts to
further the health, safety and well-being of children.....this rule is
promulgated to standardize use of CASA programs in the courts of this
state..." Under §43.1 "A CASA program may be appointed by Family Court
in its discretion to provide assistance to the Court in cases
regarding children in or at risk of out-of-home placement."
When Family Court assigns a program such as CASA to aid the court the
assistance must be within the "legal authority of the court and the
agency" (Matter of Nathan S., 198 AD 2d 557). Based on Family Court
Act §255 authorizing Family Court "to direct officers and agencies to
render assistance and cooperation which are in the best interests of
the child..." the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department,
re-affirmed this authority on May 26, 2005. (Matter of Michelle HH.,
18 AD 3d 1075, 797 NYS 2d 567; Matter of Sarah FF., 18AD3d 1072, 797
NYS 2d 571).
In order to fulfill that assignment and provide comprehensive
information, CABA volunteers need access to information it is
statutorily now barred from receiving. Currently, CASA is not
identified in the list of appropriate agencies to which confidential
records may be released under Social Services Law §422(A)(4) regarding
Child Protective Services records; nor under Social Services Law
§372(4)(a) regarding foster care records. (Matter of Michelle HH., 18
AD3d 1075, 797 NYS 2d 567; Matter of Sarah FF., 18AD3d 1072, 797 NYS
2d 571; May 26, 2005); nor under Mental Hygiene Law §33.13.
Without access to confidential Child Protective Services or foster
care information CASA volunteers are severely limited in their ability
to provide assistance to Family Courts. Across New York State, there
have been a variety of legal interpretations of the above referenced
decisions. As a result, the majority of the counties in which CASA
programs operate have experienced a change in their relationship with
their Departments of Social Services. Those changes range from a
complete inability to access any records at all, whether written or
verbal; to limited ability to access caseworkers, children or foster
parents. This has created an ongoing and growing challenge to the
efficacy of the CASA mission.
This legislation would amend Social Services Law §422(A) and add a new
subsection(c) to Social Services Law §372(4) to include Court
Appointed Special Advocates on the long lists of agencies having
appropriate access to confidential information. This exemplifies
government officials developing and implementing sound policies and
programs which best serve the vulnerable children in foster care.
CASA is committed to working collaboratively to assist the family
courts in reaching sound decisions with the goal of helping to protect
the safety and well-being of children. This bill will enhance service
to New York State's most vulnerable children while protecting the
integrity and confidentiality of the process designed to help them.
At a time of growing social ills that are exacerbating the incidents
of abuse and neglect, it is essential that children are offered all
the assistance they deserve and the hope of a brighter tomorrow.
The passage of this legislation is a key factor in CASA's ability to
progress toward providing an advocate for every child who needs one.
During this lime of fiscal restraint and challenge, CASA volunteers
provide a no-cost support system to some of the State's most at-risk
children. They work with only one or two children at a time, so these
highly trained and caring individuals can provide detailed and
essential information requested by the court in support of finding a
safe and permanent home as soon as possible for children who have
experienced abuse or neglect. The child advocacy services that CASA
provides are invaluable to the children, cost effective to our State's
communities, and helpful to courts dealing with a multitude of cases.
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY :
2007-2008 - S.7181B Advanced to third reading
FISCAL IMPLICATIONS :
EFFECTIVE DATE :
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