State lawmakers, prior to recessing for the summer last week, approved child protection legislation requiring the state to track repeated reports of abuse and neglect through the statewide child abuse hotline.
Sponsored by State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, the new legislation – which was unanimously passed by the State Senate late Friday – requires the state Office of Children and Family Services to examine the call history of children named in suspected abuse reports. Further, the complete record of those calls must then be shared with any local child protective services agency that winds up investigating subsequent allegations of abuse.
Kennedy said the goal is to ensure a more appropriate and thorough response from local CPS offices, and to bolster communication between the state hotline and local offices charged with investigating suspected child abuse cases.
This new reform passed the Assembly by a vote of 126 to 2 on Thursday. Initated by Kennedy in January, it was prompted by two high-profile cases:
• The 2013 beating death of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks. The boyfriend of his mother has been charged with the killing.
• 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 both boys, but had determined their circumstances did not warrant removing them 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.
In Abdifatah’s case, he had twice called 911 seeking help a year before he was killed.
“In many tragic cases, concerned family members and mandated reporters make call after call to the state hotline worried about the safety of children, and unfortunately the local agencies investigating allegations of abuse or neglect are not informed of all previous reports in the state central register,” Kennedy said.
“Often, this causes reports of abuse to be investigated as isolated incidents when in reality many of these children have a long history of involvement with the system. Under our legislation, CPS workers will be provided with critical information about previous reports, which will help them conduct their investigations thoroughly and with necessary scrutiny,” he added.
Carol Spring-Baker, Eain’s great-grandmother, said she was ectastic when Kennedy called her Monday morning to inform that the reform legislation, which she also championed, had passed. Had it been in place last year, Spring-Baker said, her great-grandson might still be alive.
“This is one of the biggest things we wanted to see go through. The hotline center is just way behind the times and it needs a lot of reform,” Spring-Baker said.
A state audit of Erie County CPS cases last year found that 72 percent of reports under review at that time involved families with a history of previous child protective investigations within the past four years – and 24 percent of families had five or more previous reports.
Kennedy said the legislation will soon be delivered to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo so it can be signed into law.
Meanwhile, Kennedy also helped push through the State Senate a law requiring local Social Services Departments to annually disclose caseload numbers for CPS workers and come up with measures to lower them to the state-recommended level of 15 cases.
Last week, the Erie County Legislature approved hiring 37 new CPS workers in an effort to reduce caseloads which, according to Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer, currently exceed 50 per caseworker, on average.