State Senator Hugh T. Farley (R,C - Schenectady) and Assemblyman Paul D. Tonko (D - Schenectady) will be introducing "Xctasy's Law," closing a loophole in New York's child abuse reporting statute. The bill is named after Xctasy Garcia, a four-year-old Schenectady child who has been the victim of horrendous child abuse.
"This is a truly terrible case, and it is only through God's grace and the concern of many people in Schenectady that Xctasy was removed from the horrible situation, and is now in good care and recovering from her injuries," Senator Farley said. "This legislation will help to protect other youngsters from repeated abuse."
"We must do everything we can to protect our children from violence -- whether it's in their home, in their neighborhood or in their schools," Assemblyman Tonko said. "The government has a fundamental obligation to ensure that children are shielded from the ravages of violent homes and to respond with vigilance to reports of potential cases of child abuse. This reform provides enhanced protection for children across the State and will help the responsible agencies in preventing this type of tragedy from happening again."
An investigation into the Xctasy Garcia case revealed that local Schenectady Social Services workers who received second-hand reports of suspected child abuse were not legally required to follow up. "This is a serious loophole in New York's laws, and the bill we are introducing now will resolve that problem," Senator Farley continued.
Under current law, local Social Services workers are "mandated reporters," which means that they must formally report and investigate child abuse which they observe, or which they learn about from contact with a child's parents or guardian. In Xctasy's case, however, the call to a Social Services worker was made by a motel manager who had heard about the abuse from one of his tenants. Since the Social Services worker heard the report second-hand, there is no current legal requirement to investigate.
"Our legislation will require local Social Services workers to investigate all reports of suspected child abuse," Senator Farley explained. "Even when the report may be second-hand or incomplete, we owe it to our vulnerable children to be sure that Social Services professionals investigate the case. Had this law been in place when the motel manager conveyed the report, Schenectady Social Services would have investigated and stopped the abuse much earlier."
"Children at-risk deserve quick and effective intervention -- not bureaucratic responses," said Assemblyman Tonko. "We need to overhaul the governmental framework charged with protecting the interests of children. Our bill will provide the catalyst for changing the methods of agencies serving the interests of vulnerable children."
The investigation also revealed failures in federal laws intended to protect children from child abuse. The Massachusetts child abuse registry, which had received reports of abuse when Xctasy and her family lived in that state, had no process to convey this information to New York officials. In addition, Massachusetts law enforcement officials did not enter criminal arrest information about Xctasy's mother's boyfriend into a national FBI database, so Schenectady police were not aware of his record. "Since the other two failures clearly involve interstate and federal laws," Senator Farley noted, "I'm pleased that the federal government is taking rapid action to solve the problems." President Bush recently signed legislation to create a national child abuse database, so that future reports filed in one state will be available to enforcement officials in other states.
Although the State Legislature is not currently in session, Senator Farley and Assemblyman Tonko are introducing their bill now so that it can be acted upon should a special session be called later this year.
To report child abuse now, call the New York State Child Abuse Hotlien at (800) 342-3720. To learn more about the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, click here.