The New York State Senate today passed two bills to help save the lives of abused children who may otherwise slip through the cracks of Child Protective Services - often with deadly consequences. The bills require testing young children for drugs if their guardian is arrested on drug charges, and restrict high caseloads from jeopardizing the investigation of child abuse or maltreatment.
Bill S137, sponsored by Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury) would require hair follicle testing of an infant or toddler under the age of three who is in the vicinity of parent or guardian who is arrested on a drug charge. The legislation, known as Kayleigh Mae's Law, is named after a 13-month-old child in Washington County who died in 2015 after being given heroin and cocaine for 10 months after birth. For children who are not yet old enough to speak, the hair follicle test would give a new tool for child protective investigations to help determine if a child’s health is at risk from illegal drug exposure.
Senator Little said, “What happened to Kayleigh is a terrible tragedy. For most of her very brief life she was exposed to dangerous drugs. Her autopsy showed she had been given heroin and cocaine. My hope is we can prevent similar tragedies by requiring a simple test when it appears a child may be at risk of being exposed to illegal drugs. This is not about creating a new penalty for drug users - the goal of the legislation is assuring the welfare of the child.”
Bill S3146, sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn) establishes a statewide standard of no more than 15 cases per month per full-time child protective caseworker.
Senator Golden stated, “The recent death of Michael Guzman of Queens further highlights the need to place a limit on the number of cases assigned to a child protective service investigator. These caseworkers are charged with protecting our children and when they are overburdened, they cannot be as successful as we need them to be. Without a doubt, this legislation will keep our children safer and save lives.”
The state Office of Children and Family Services recommends a CPS caseload size of 12 active reports per month. However, average caseloads are higher in counties throughout the state; in Erie, Broome, Madison, and Sullivan counties, one-third of caseworkers have more than 12 cases a month, with some having more than 25; Oneida county caseworkers are averaging more than 25 cases per month; and almost half of the caseworkers in Schenectady County have caseloads exceeding 12 cases.
In New York City, reports indicate that CPS workers’ caseloads are rising. The recent tragic deaths of six-year-old Zymere Perkins in September 2016, three-year-old Jaden Jordan in December 2016, and five-year-old Michael Guzman this month further reinforces the importance of preventing caseworkers from being overburdened and unable to follow up on claims of abuse. While the bill passed both houses last year, the Governor vetoed the legislation in December.
The bills have been sent to the Assembly.