The governor has two important pieces of reform legislation to protect children awaiting his signature.
The first requires the state to track repeated reports of abuse and neglect, and transmit prior history of such to the local Child Protective Services agency investigating the case. The second bill deals with improving transparency when it comes to workers’ caseloads.
At times, family members and mandated reporters make continuous calls to the state hot line on behalf of a child. Then the child and family move to another jurisdiction. Now a whole new set of local agencies may be investigating allegations of abuse or neglect. But because they have not been informed of all previous reports in the state central register, those new agencies are operating without a full history. Too often this can cause reports of abuse to be investigated as isolated incidents.
A state review of Erie County Child Protective Services, conducted late last year at the urging of Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, found that 72 percent of reports under review at the time involved families with a history of previous CPS investigations within the past four years. Twenty-four percent of families had five or more previous reports. Under the new reform, sponsored by Kennedy and co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, the statewide hot line will log calls and maintain records and immediately share the information with the local CPS agency.
The need to reform Child Protective Services became painfully obvious following recent high-profile deaths.
In the 2013 beating death of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks, the boyfriend of his mother has been charged. Another high-profile case involved the 2012 killing of 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud, whose stepfather beat him more than 70 times over the head and body with a wooden rolling pin.
Erie County CPS caseworkers had previously investigated complaints of child abuse involving both boys. Yet they determined their circumstances did not warrant removal from the home. Eain’s family members insist they repeatedly called CPS, but weren’t informed on the progress of the complaints.
Even more tragic, if possible, in Abdifatah’s case is that the boy twice called 911 seeking help before he was killed.
The new reform should speed preventive action while allowing caseworkers a more accurate picture of circumstances. Moreover, a new measure co-sponsored by Kennedy to improve CPS transparency and strengthen caseload oversight requires local Departments of Social Services to regularly and fully disclose workers’ caseload numbers and to devise strategies to lower caseloads to the state-recommended level of 15 cases.
During a public hearing held by the Legislature on the recent hiring of 37 new Erie County Child Protective Services workers, the Department of Social Services commissioner admitted to caseloads of about 40 to 50 per worker. Following that testimony, a recently retired worker claimed the number was closer to 100 or more per worker.
This legislation, which requires each local Department of Social Services to compile an annual report, will help provide the needed transparency and clarity about what each worker is dealing with on a daily or monthly basis, so the county can take steps to reduce caseloads to levels closer to the state recommendation.
Fixing a broken system takes time, which is something children in danger have little to spare. The governor should hasten to sign these potentially life-saving bills.