To determine whether the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) effectively oversees local departments of social services’ investigation of reports of alleged child abuse or maltreatment, and ensures compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and procedures to promote the safety and well-being of affected children and families. The audit covered the period from January 2018 to November 2021, with subsequent information related to our sample cases through September 2022.
About the Program
The New York State Child Protective Services Act of 1973 was established to encourage more complete reporting of child abuse and maltreatment, provide for the swift and competent investigation of such reports, protect children from further abuse or maltreatment, and provide rehabilitative services. OCFS’ mission is to serve New York’s public by promoting the safety, permanency, and well-being of our children, families, and communities. OCFS is responsible for overseeing the locally administered child welfare system, including 58 local departments of social services (LDSSs) as well as the voluntary agencies that contract with LDSSs to provide child welfare services.
Suspected incidences of child abuse and maltreatment are received by OCFS through the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) via phone calls, fax, and electronic submission (hereafter, suspected incidences of child abuse and maltreatment received by the SCR are referred to as “calls”). The SCR, established by New York Social Services Law, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and received roughly 300,000 calls annually for the 2 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Calls decreased to just under 270,000 in 2020. If a call is received and OCFS staff determine there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child (i.e., under the age of 18) has been impaired or is in imminent danger of impairment because of the failure of a parent or person legally responsible to exercise a minimum degree of care, this will result in an intake report if it is within the jurisdiction of the State and sufficient demographics (e.g., name, address) are provided to initiate an investigation. Calls with concerns that do not contain those elements result in a non-report. In such instances, the caller must be provided with a clear explanation of why the intake is not being registered as a report and given the option to receive a supervisory consultation. Examples of circumstances that would result in a non-report include, but are not limited to, those related to children 18 years of age or older and children residing outside of New York State. Calls received through the SCR that OCFS staff determine meet the threshold for a report are sent to the respective LDSS through CONNECTIONS – the computerized system of record used for recording child welfare information in the State.
In certain instances, reports of abuse or maltreatment involve the death of a child. OCFS is required by law to conduct a review and issue a summary report within 6 months of the death of the child. To improve practices within LDSSs, OCFS implemented a Program Quality Improvement (PQI) process in January 2020. The process involves case reviews by a dedicated team to improve consistency, with a goal of reviewing 2,400 cases in a 3-year cycle. Once reviews of the LDSS are completed, OCFS issues a report to the LDSS, which includes any findings. If needed, a program improvement plan is put in place and monitored by OCFS.
- OCFS generally has processes in place to oversee LDSSs’ investigation of reports of alleged child abuse or maltreatment. However, we found improvements could be made to child fatality and PQI reviews. The prevalence of certain issues across multiple LDSSs indicates problems that should be addressed statewide rather than on a case-by-case basis. Officials had not yet developed a plan on how to address and rectify the deficiencies on a statewide basis.
- While OCFS is generally performing its required duties in receiving calls through the SCR and determining actions for the calls, we found closure codes for non-report calls could more accurately reflect the nature of closure and why the call did not result in a report. Additionally, the length of time OCFS maintains call recordings from the SCR may limit its ability to retroactively investigate whether non-report calls were properly handled.
- Evaluate and address deficiencies found in PQI and child fatality reviews on a statewide basis across all LDSSs.
- Establish procedures to more accurately reflect the nature of the calls determined to be non-reports and the reason why the call did not result in a report; this may include, but not be limited to, adjusting the retention period for the call recording and updating closure codes.
State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Nadine Morrell
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236