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Searching social media websites has become the newest means for selected Erie County Child Protective Services workers to track those who are under investigation for alleged child abuse.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Tuesday announced the implementation of a new CPS policy that allows designated employees to access social network sites for the purpose of conducting a safety assessment or investigation, Poloncarz said. This latest social-media policy is believed to be one of the first instituted by a child protective agency in New York State and is being used in cases with an increased safety risk to the child.

“Many times alleged perpetrators of child abuse have information on a social media site which would indicate their children are not being well cared for,” said Poloncarz.

“Designated CPS staff now has a directive that allows them to search for this type of information and use this information in their investigation, possibly leading to a court action,” he added.

Under the policy, CPS staff have specific criteria for targeting searches and gathering information from social media sites.

CPS workers are, however, restricted to monitoring and gathering information on sites only where an individual has not made any attempt to limit access to any posted data and where the data is accessible to the general public without the authorization of the website creator. Designated CPS employees may go to social network sites only to seek information about the subject of an active CPS report, or those who are named in a report.

Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer said the new social media policy is just one of many new department initiatives aimed at making CPS function more effectively.

They include adding 18 positions to CPS, having caseworkers placed in area hospitals, and partnering with Central Police Services to improve caseworkers’ interviewing skills, Danker-Maurer said.

In addition, the administration has requested permission from the Legislature to temporarily hire six retired CPS workers on a part-time basis, and to re-establish the Community Coordinating Council on Children and Families.

Within the past year, the Department of Social Services has also undergone a reorganization that resulted in the creation of a new seven-member Child Protective Services team, actions that were taken following high-profile, fatal child-abuse cases in Buffalo in which CPS has been accused of being slow to respond.

Last month, the state Office of Children and Family Services issued an audit that showed substantial improvement in the CPS Division since a previous audit in November.

Meanwhile, administration officials are working on a package of legislative reforms that would affect Child Protective Services systems statewide.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com