2006-06-16 / Community

Titus: City's Child Protection System Needs New Laws

Assemblywoman Michele Titus has announced significant committee action on a package of bills aimed at strengthening New York's child protection system by enhancing child protective worker standards and training, making it easier to terminate parental rights in cases where a homicide has been committed against a parent or sibling, and providing critical services for the rising number of youth who suffer sexual exploitation.

These measures are expected to be considered on the floor of the Assembly before the conclusion of session. The leadership has said they are important measures that would codify the Assembly's Child Protective and Abuse Prevention Package, which was part of the bipartisan budget adopted by the Legislature in April. The lawmakers noted the package was the direct result of a series of statewide public hearings conducted by the Assembly committees on Children and Families and Oversight, Analysis and Investigation.

The bills, which were reported out of the Children and Families Committee earlier today, would reduce caseloads of child protective workers, enhance training and education for the thousands of mandated reporters who trigger entry into the child protective system, improve communication and establish better protocols for multidisciplinary responses among law enforcement and child protection agencies throughout the state and create a new, executive Office of the Child Advocate to ensure that vulnerable children have a strong and effective watchdog to monitor this vitally important system.

Qualifications and Training For CPS

A key bill in the package, A.11574, sponsored by Assemblywoman Titus, would provide advanced clinical supervision and on-going training for child protective workers. The lawmakers noted that under current regulations entry-level child protective services workers are only required to have either a baccalaureate or equivalent college degree, or relevant human services experience. At the same time, supervisory staff is only required to have one year of experience in child welfare services.

According to Titus, these requirements have led to situations in which supervisors may have very little experience or education in providing child protective services. Provisions of the bill would require that the qualifications of supervisory child protective services workers hired after December 1, 2006 must include an advanced social work degree or comparable human services field experience. In addition, the bill also would require supervisors to have two years experience working with children and families or a baccalaureate degree in social work or comparable human services field and four years of experience working with children and families, with two of those years within the child protective services system.

Termination of Parental Rights For Murderous Parents

Legislation, A.11582, sponsored by Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, seeks to protect children who have lost a parent or sibling to homicide. The bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Raymond Meier, is based on legislation advanced by the state Office of Court Administration. It would amend current law to add the conviction for homicide of the child's other parent or a child for which that parent was legally responsible as grounds for the termination of parental rights.

According to Rivera, under current law, children who have already had their families torn apart by the murder of a parent or sibling by another parent, languish in foster care for at least 15 months while a petition to terminate parental rights is considered. This bill does not apply in cases of domestic violence.

Strengthening and Expanding Child Advocacy Centers (CACs)

Calling them "modern day miracles in the fight against child abuse and neglect," Titus and Assemblyman Scarborough, minority leader in the Assembly, said the Assembly would continue advocating strongly for the expansion of child advocacy centers (CACs) and multi-disciplinary investigative teams across New York State. Assembly bill 11188 would create a statutory definition of child advocacy centers and require CACs to meet certain minimum standards.

Following a series of statewide hearings last year, the Assembly concluded the lack of coordination amongst law enforcement agencies, child protective services and other entities involved in the protection of children was a major impediment in effectively protecting abused and neglected children.

CACs and multi-disciplinary investigative teams provide children and their families with coordinated intervention services from teams that include professionals from child protective services, law enforcement, medical, prosecution, mental health and other disciplines responsible for the investigation and management of reports of child abuse. These facilities provide services and staff specially trained in the unique needs of child-abuse victims, thereby increasing rates of prosecution of child abusers and more effectively and humanely assisting child victims.

According to Scarborough, there are 28 CACs and seven multidisciplinary teams statewide. While co-location of these centers and teams is a recommended best practice, this arrangement exists at a limited number of sites.

Fatality Review Teams

Another bill in the package, A.10023-A, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, would expand the composition of regional fatality review teams responsible for investigating the deaths of children under 18 years of age. Provisions of the bill also would expand the scope of child fatality review teams to include fatalities of all children involved in the child welfare system. The bill provides for subpoena power, immunity and confidentiality for fatality review teams and requires an annual report.

Better Educating the Public About Child Abuse and Neglect

Bill A.11635, sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, seeks to increase community awareness about the symptoms of child abuse and neglect. The bill would require OCFS to conduct a public education campaign that emphasizes zero tolerance for child abuse and maltreatment. The campaign would include information about the signs and indicators of child abuse and maltreatment, information about the Child Abuse Hotline and information about services available to assist families with substance-abuse, domestic-violence and mental-health needs.

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