By Mark C. Poloncarz
As county executive, the worst days of my administration have been when I learned about the death of a child. Since January 2012, six children have died violently at the hands of an adult here.
In each case, I demanded to know if there was any prior county involvement with the families. In those cases where prior involvement existed, I demanded to know if there was anything we should have done better.
After conducting a top-to-bottom assessment, we concluded change was needed. Caseworkers who did an inadequate job were fired, their supervisors were suspended and we reassigned the head of Child Protective Services. We’ve reduced the heavy caseload burden by adding more caseworkers and strengthened the supervisory support structure for them. We also placed caseworkers in all Buffalo public schools and the local hospitals that do the most intake of children in need.
These changes are making a difference. Recently, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, after a comprehensive review of CPS, issued a report noting Erie County’s CPS is headed in a positive direction.
However, there is only so much we can do locally to reform CPS, because there are systemic issues at the state level that need to be addressed. The outdated state system created in the early 1970s needs modernization and a sharpened focus on using all the contemporary tools at our disposal to better protect children.
That’s why I am leading the way with a comprehensive package of 19 proposals I hope will be passed by the Senate and Assembly and signed into law by the governor this year. These are common-sense solutions to the problems CPS faces, easy to implement and long overdue.
Some of these reforms include:
• Creating a new felony crime of endangering the welfare of a child.
• Requiring the state to use the latest technology for the state abuse reporting system, which will allow acceptance of photo and video evidence.
• Increasing CPS powers to help children by creating a presumption of neglect if there is an incident of excessive corporal punishment.
• Requiring mandated reporters to receive course work or training every three years.
• Allowing Social Services to subpoena records related to the health and welfare of the child and access police records for anyone in the household.
• Increasing the criminal penalties to a felony for knowingly making false allegations of suspected abuse or neglect of a child.
Join me and tell Albany to pass these needed reforms now by signing our online petition at www.erie.gov or calling your state legislators. Together we can build a better, safer tomorrow for all of New York’s children.
Mark C. Poloncarz is Erie County executive.