Senator Kennedy's Bill to Improve Statewide Child Abuse Hotline Passed Through State Legislature
Senator Kennedy’s Legislation Will Improve State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment by Enacting Strong Requirements for Tracking of Repeat Reports.
Senate, Assembly Approved Key CPS Reform Pushed by Kennedy.
State review of Erie County CPS found 72 percent of existing reports involved families with previous history of CPS investigations within the past four years.
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, secured approval from the Senate and Assembly for his legislation that will significantly improve the statewide child abuse hotline by requiring the state to track repeated reports of abuse and neglect. Senator Kennedy’s legislation (S.5942A) will require the state Office of Children and Family Services to examine the previous call history of children named in suspected abuse reports and to transmit all prior records to the local Child Protective Services agency that investigates new allegations. This reform will ensure a more appropriate and thorough response from local CPS offices, and it will provide for more seamless communication between the state hotline and the local offices investigating.
“In many tragic cases, concerned family members and mandated reporters make call after call to the state hotline worried about the safety of children, and unfortunately the local agencies investigating allegations of abuse or neglect are not informed of all previous reports in the state central register. Often, this causes reports of abuse to be investigated as isolated incidents when in reality many of these children have a long history of involvement with the system,” said Senator Tim Kennedy. “Under our legislation, CPS workers will be provided with critical information about previous reports, which will help them conduct their investigations thoroughly and with necessary scrutiny.”
Senator Kennedy delivered remarks from the Senate floor to outline the urgent need to improve Child Protective Services, starting with this legislation which passed unanimously in the Senate: http://youtu.be/vhlhCw4iulg.
A state review of Erie County CPS, which was conducted at the end of 2013 at Senator Kennedy’s urging, found that 72 percent of reports under review at that time involved families with a history of previous child protective investigations within the past four years – and 24 percent of families had five or more previous reports.
By requiring OCFS to examine and transmit previous reports made to the state hotline, Senator Kennedy’s legislation will help ensure county CPS agencies conduct more thorough investigations by immediately providing caseworkers and investigators with necessary and complete information about children’s previous involvement with the state’s child protection system.
“As a community and as a state, we must keep children safe from harm and ensure no family ever again has to suffer the pain of losing a child to abuse, especially once that child is in the hands of the system set up to protect them,” Kennedy said. “This much-needed reform legislation, which will significantly improve the effectiveness of the statewide child abuse hotline, is an important step forward in our ongoing work to protect our children. It will gear child protective workers with the information they need to keep our children safe.”
The State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment serves as a centralized, statewide take-in point for reports of suspected abuse or neglect. The state then relays allegations to local CPS agencies for investigation.
In order to appropriately and thoroughly investigate cases, child protective workers should review the full history of reports made to the central register involving both the children named in the report and the subject of the report. However, gaining access to those records is both very difficult and extremely time-consuming under current law. This takes workers’ time and attention away from assessing the safety of children suspected of being abused or neglected.
OCFS maintains records of reports from across the state, and this legislation will ensure OCFS examines previous reports and immediately transmits any record of involvement with the child protective system to the local agency that is investigating the new allegations. All records from across the state will be immediately provided to the local CPS office conducting the current investigation. For example, OCFS would immediately transmit any previous reports from Monroe County to Erie County, if the family involved had lived in Rochester when previous calls were made but had moved to Buffalo when a new report was called in.
Kennedy’s legislation will ensure child protective agencies have all necessary information to protect children at the start of their investigations, and it will provide workers with more time to commit to field work, as opposed to working through bureaucratic processes.
When caseworkers are made aware of prior history with the system, they will be able to better determine any protective actions to take or if they should provide preventive services to help families recover and grow stronger and safer.
The legislation will soon be delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.
Senator Kennedy also helped usher through the State Senate important CPS legislation that will require local Departments of Social Services to regularly and fully disclose workers’ caseload numbers and to devise strategies to lower caseloads to the state-recommended level of 15 cases. This will prove especially vital to improving CPS locally, as some Erie County CPS workers have caseloads of about 50 – far exceeding state recommendations. This legislation is also awaiting the Governor’s signature to become law.
Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov.