At public hearing today in Albany, Kennedy says there’s an urgent need for additional state resources for local CPS agencies in light of recent child fatalities in Erie County.
ALBANY, N.Y. – At a public hearing where state lawmakers explored the budget’s impact on human services, Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, made a forceful plea for increased state resources for local child protection services in Western New York and across the state. In light of recent child fatalities in Erie County, Kennedy says there is a dire need for new support for child protection services.
CPS workers often become overburdened with heavy caseloads, but local county agencies have struggled to address the problem because they lack sufficient resources to expand their staffs or enhance their training programs. Kennedy said increased state support for Child Protective Services will help counties more effectively and appropriately respond to and investigate reports of child abuse and neglect. Additional resources are needed to help close gaps in the system and keep children safe.
“Too many children have suffered and died for this state to pinch pennies when it comes to supporting child protection efforts. Communities across New York are in dire need of increased state support for Child Protective Services, and it’s time we make the safety of children the top priority of this state,” said Senator Kennedy. “Children have died because CPS has failed them. It’s heartbreaking and absolutely unacceptable. We need to ensure communities have the resources they need to dramatically improve their CPS agencies and protect our children – and we cannot delay.
“As a community and as a state,” Kennedy added, “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 asked Sheila Poole, acting commissioner of the state Office of Children and Family Services, if she thought current levels of state funding were sufficient to support child protection agencies across the state. He pressed the commissioner for additional resources to be directed to counties to hire more caseworkers, increase training opportunities and decrease caseloads – which Kennedy says will allow for more thorough investigations.
The average CPS caseworker in New York State generally has 12-15 cases at any time. However, in many counties, that number has been much higher at certain points in time. Currently, the state is responsible for 62 percent of county CPS agencies’ funding, while the county covers the remaining 38 percent. Kennedy asked if the state should consider elevating the level of funds they provide counties, and he raised the suggestion of establishing a cap on individual CPS workers’ caseloads to ensure every child’s case receives the attention it’s due.
Commissioner Poole was open to the suggestion of capping caseloads, and acknowledged the need for state support for local CPS agencies. When Kennedy reiterated his push for higher levels of state funding for child protection, the commissioner hesitated to offer her full commitment to increase resources for county agencies.
Senator Kennedy also pressed for increased support for Child Advocacy Centers. In Buffalo, the Lee Gross Anthone Child Advocacy Center does tremendous work on behalf of local children. They take a multi-disciplinary approach – bringing together Child Protective Services, police agencies, the district attorney’s office and specially-trained nurses – to respond to child abuse. This method limits the trauma a child must endure re-telling their devastating stories to each of these different entities.
Because of their effectiveness, Child Advocacy Centers are now set up across the state. From 16 CAC’s in 2007, there are now 40 CAC’s statewide. The number of children served has climbed from 10,763 in 2007, up to an estimated 18,500 in 2013. However, over that same time span, their funding from the state plummeted by 25.6 percent to a low of $5.2 million in 2011. They’ve recovered slightly, up to $5.98 million, but that’s split among 40 different CAC’s.
“Child Advocacy Centers provide a life-saving service, but they’re struggling to make ends meet,” Kennedy said. “The state should immediately provide Child Advocacy Centers with additional resources to ensure they remain open and ready to support children who’ve become victims of abuse.”
In addition to saving lives, CAC’s also save money. Studies show that multi-disciplinary team investigations save as much as $1,000 per case when compared with the cost of traditional investigations.
Senator Kennedy and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes have proposed a comprehensive series of legislation to strengthen and improve Child Protective Services in Erie County and across the state. Together, the bills they’ve introduced present major changes to a system long in need of reform.
This CPS reform effort follows the tragic deaths of several children in Erie County – which shed light on serious gaps and inadequacies within the system of Child Protective Services locally and statewide.
Reforms proposed by Kennedy and Peoples-Stokes include:
- Ensuring Child Protective Services workers are properly trained for their unique and demanding work.
- New accountability by strengthening involvement of mandated reporters in CPS investigations.
- Reforming excessive corporal punishment statutes. Ensuring stronger, deeper investigations when violent, extreme and senseless corporal punishment is reported.
- Reforming protocols for the interviewing of children in suspected abuse cases to ensure stronger, more accurate and more thorough investigations.
- Sharpening the statewide child abuse hotline to track repeat reports of abuse.
- Improving investigations and ensuring accountability by requiring photographic evidence be gathered during caseworker visits.
Kennedy and Peoples-Stokes have also launched a petition to build support and momentum behind efforts to improve Child Protective Services. The petition is accessible by clicking this link.
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 athttp://kennedy.nysenate.gov.