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Another Voice: State central register child abuse reform is good for communities

By William Gettman Jr. and Naomi Post

Our state Legislature passed a child abuse  bill last session that has the potential to improve the lives of tens of thousands of families. As advocates for children and service providers who care for youth across New York, we urge the governor to sign this legislation into law.

The legislation reforms our state central register for child abuse and maltreatment by bringing New York in line with 41 other states that require the government to find that it is at least more likely than not that maltreatment occurred, before a parent or guardian is found to have done something wrong.  

Under the new rules, we can protect children while preventing innocent parents from ending up on a state register for decades, creating sometimes insurmountable hurdles to employment that drive children and families deeper into poverty and vulnerability. This is especially true for families of color and poor families, who are overrepresented in our child welfare system.

New York currently has the lowest possible standard to put a parent on the registry as “indicated” for alleged child abuse and maltreatment: “some credible evidence.” That means today, Child Protective Services investigators are not required even to weigh all the available evidence when they are investigating. 

In 2018, more than 47,500 reports were indicated in our state.  Most of these cases were never even heard by a judge because CPS never deemed the allegations serious enough to take to court. 

Being so quick to put parents on the state register doesn’t make children or our communities safer, and this bill would not limit CPS authority to remove children from dangerous situations or to obtain supervision, services, or orders of protection to protect children. Rather, the new rules would give our local child protective experts the time they need to respond to the most serious needs of families in our communities.  

The bill also includes other common sense reforms to how we respond to allegations of neglect (which are largely driven by poverty) and abuse. Currently parents who have an indicated case stay on the register for up to 28 years regardless of the seriousness of the allegations. This presents extreme challenges for parents when trying to find a job.

This bill would continue to leave indicated abuse cases on the register for up to 28 years, while sealing neglect cases after 12 years. The bill also allows parents to seal records if a court finds in their favor or if they can show sufficient evidence of rehabilitation. These new provisions give parents the ability to move forward, which is good for parents, and for kids. That is why a broad coalition of community-based providers, attorneys representing children and children’s policy advocates, including the Citizens’ Committee for Children, Inc. and the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, supports this bill.  

William Gettman Jr. is chief executive officer of Northern Rivers Family of Services. Naomi Post is executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-NY.

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