A wide spectrum of proposed changes in state laws to hold child protective services caseworkers and their supervisors more accountable will be unveiled this afternoon by State Sen. Tim Kennedy and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes in response to two recent killings of children in Erie County.
Child Protective Services caseworkers across the state would be required to interview children away from other individuals in the home so that youngsters could speak freely; take photographs of the children to prove they are making visits and allow supervisors to view the physical condition of the children; and, within 30 days, provide information to “mandated reporters,” such as schoolteachers and police officers, who could update concerned family members on the status of the investigation, proving complaints are being taken seriously.
The legislation also strengthens the definition of what constitutes child abuse. Excessive corporal punishment would no longer be considered child neglect but outright abuse, requiring caseworkers to investigate the allegations.
State workers answering calls at the central register child abuse telephone hotline in Albany would be required to take into consideration prior history, if the child or suspected abuser had been previously reported to the register. Such information would factor into whether the latest complaint merited a review by the local county.
And more stringent qualifications would be required for CPS workers, along with additional training.
The changes are prompted by the beating death of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks, whose mother’s boyfriend has been charged with killing the boy last September, and the 2012 slaying of 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud, whose stepfather beat him more than 70 times over the head with a wooden rolling pin.
Erie County CPS caseworkers had previously investigated complaints of child abuse involving the two boys, but determined circumstances did not warrant removing the children from their families’ homes. Eain’s family members said they repeatedly called CPS, but were kept in the dark on how the investigation into their complaints was progressing. Abdi twice called 911 seeking help a year before he was killed.
Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said the proposed changes in the state’s social services laws are long overdue.
“These reforms are intended to close existing gaps and to make the system safer, improve accountability and make it more responsive for our children that need it,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Kennedy, D-Buffalo, called the slayings of the two Buffalo boys unacceptable.
“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.
If photographs of Eain had been taken after he suffered injuries, Kennedy said, the caseworker’s supervisor might have seen them and taken steps to remove the boy from the family’s apartment.
Erie County fired two caseworkers and suspended two supervisors following Eain’s death, in addition to making a number of other administrative changes as it continues working with the state’s Office of Children & Family Services.