LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES FOR CHILDREN AND PARENTS JOIN PARENT LEADERS TO URGE GOVERNOR CUOMO TO SIGN SCR REFORM BILL INTO LAW
December 12, 2019
Contact: Daniel Ball
*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***
Legal Representatives for Children and Parents Join Parent Leaders to Urge Governor Cuomo to Sign SCR Reform Bill into Law
(New York, NY) – Today, impacted parent leaders, legal services providers, and non-profit organizations who work with child welfare-involved children and families across New York State joined together to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation (A8060A/S6427A) that would begin to remove devastating employment barriers for families impacted by the child welfare system. This legislation passed with bi-partisan support and is currently on the Governor’s desk. Currently, a parent investigated by child protective services is listed on the State Central Register (SCR) for 10 years after her youngest child turns 18 — or as long as 28 years — even if the case is dismissed in court. Being listed on the SCR blocks people from many forms of employment, from school administration to hospital custodial services. Given sharp demographic disparities in targeting by the child welfare system, this unfair system disproportionately harms parents of color and low-income parents.
“Imposing a sentence of financial insecurities by placing parents accused of neglect on the State Central Register for up to twenty-eight years does not protect children or their families because poverty puts people at risk,” said Joyce McMillan, the We Are Parents Too Coordinator at Sinergia Inc and parent advocate. “This legislation helps remove these barriers, making families safer and more secure, and I urge Governor Cuomo to sign it into law.”
“In New York City, more families than ever before are being investigated by child protective services. I have seen how high rates of investigations in certain communities, like mine in the Bronx, affect mostly low-income families of color. Parents in these communities end up with limited job options because these labels exclude them from entire categories of employment,” said Jeanette Vega, Training Director, Rise. “Thankfully, the Legislature has passed a bill that recognizes that one mistake shouldn’t haunt a parent forever. If Gov. Cuomo signs the bill, it will make the SCR process far more fair than it is now.”
“As the attorneys for children in Family Court proceedings, we know the SCR unjustifiably limits the employment opportunities of their parents, rendering children even more vulnerable to extreme poverty and such associated risks as inadequate housing and poor educational attainment,” said Theresa Moser, Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice. “This bill would reduce the disproportionate impact of the SCR on Black and Latinx families who are vastly and unfairly overrepresented in the child welfare system. Governor Cuomo must act and sign this legislation into law to help repair the injustices of the SCR.”
“Passage of this bill in the Legislature brought us one step closer to breaking down barriers to employment that hundreds of thousands of families statewide experience because of an unfair and punitive State Central Register,” Lauren Shapiro, Director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice. “This is a much needed change to a law that is supposed to help children, but actually hurts families, disproportionately families of color, when there is no child safety concern that even remotely justifies this constraint on their ability to support their families. With support for this urgent and necessary reform from advocates for children and parents, as well as impacted parent leaders and families themselves, we now need the Governor to act and sign it into law.”
“For too long, the State Central Register, which is intended to help children, has instead unnecessarily hurt children and their families, particularly poor families of color,” said Chris Gottlieb, Co-Director of the NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic. “This SCR reform is a critical improvement in our child welfare system – it will make investigations more fair and ensure that parents’ access to employment opportunity is not hampered by inaccurate and irrelevant records in the SCR.”
“The passage of S6426-A/A8060-A is a critical step forward in an ongoing effort to safeguard employment opportunities for New York families while curbing the harsh and unfair effects of a record in the State Central Register, particularly for Black and Latinx parents, who are disproportionately represented,” said Jennifer Feinberg, Litigation Supervisor for the Center for Family Representation. “By raising the standard from ‘some credible evidence to a ‘preponderance of the evidence,’ parents can be reassured that they will not remain on the State Central Register after a Judge has determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of neglect in court. Additionally, the automatic sealing of indicated reports after eight years for most jobs, and twelve years for all jobs, vastly increases parents’ employment opportunities. Some of the best jobs in the healthcare and education fields have remained unattainable to our clients due to the current 28 year bar. Perhaps most importantly, S6426-A/A8060-A reflects the recognition that most cases of neglect stem from poverty and that the current unfair and unnecessary laws governing the State Central Register only add fuel to the cycle by preventing parents from securing stable and well paid jobs. S6426-A/A8060-A will strengthen New York families by providing families in poverty with greater opportunities for employment so parents can provide the stability that their families require.”
“New York was one of the first states to establish a State Central Register,” said David Lansner of Lansner & Kubitschek. “But one of the disadvantages of being a pioneer in legislation is the lack of knowledge as to how the laws will work in practice, and what the unintended consequences will be. New York now needs to improve its SCR system in light of extensive experience.”
Central registries of child abuse and maltreatment were created in part to screen those who are entrusted with the care of children. However, New York State’s SCR has become an unnecessary impediment to the economic stability and wellbeing of families in New York, creating barriers to employment that do not further the safety of children, and that have a disproportionate impact on low-income families and families of color. In New York City, for example, the ten community districts with the highest rates of child poverty had rates of child welfare investigations four times higher than the ten districts with the lowest child poverty. Those districts with higher concentrations of Black and Latinx residents had higher rates of child welfare investigations.
In New York State, local child protective services agencies (CPS) are required to investigate every allegation of child neglect or abuse received by the state SCR hotline. Under current New York law, if the child protective agency finds “some credible evidence” (a very low evidentiary standard) to support the allegations after an investigation, the report is deemed “indicated” and a caregiver’s name is added to the SCR database, which can limit their employment opportunities for up to 28 years, even if the case is ultimately dismissed in court. With nearly 50,000 names added to the SCR in 2017 alone, hundreds of thousands of parents are blocked from a wide range of employment, including jobs at community centers, after school programs, drug counseling programs, transportation agencies, schools and home health service agencies.
The vast majority of records on the SCR involve poverty-related neglect, rather than child abuse, but the registry currently makes no distinction between these cases. Allegations of neglect are often the direct result of a family’s poverty that limits their ability to access adequate child care, shelter and medical care.
This session, New York’s state legislature passed A.8060-A/S.6427-A, which improves the system by ensuring a fairer evidentiary standard for a person be placed on the SCR and reducing the long-term collateral consequences of an indicated case of neglect.
Specifically, the bill reforms the SCR in four key ways:
1. Ensures a fairer standard for an indicated record of child abuse and maltreatment that requires evidence of innocence must be considered
Under current law, child protective investigating caseworkers do not have to weigh all the evidence before indicating a case.
The current standard of evidence is the lowest legal standard in the country: “some credible evidence.” 41 other states have higher standards for substantiating claims of child abuse or neglect.
A8060A/S6427A would make the standard “a fair preponderance of the evidence,” which is the same standard required by case law and by New York’s Family Court Act for court proceedings.
Because of the unusually low standard for indicating a case on the SCR, New Yorkers routinely end up with records for things that should never have limited their ability to get jobs, such as: using marijuana recreationally, if their teenager has excessive absences from school, or even for being a victim of domestic violence.
2. Allows people the chance to show they have rehabilitated
Under current law, many people are not allowed to show evidence of rehabilitation at a fair hearing. Parents now have only 90 days from when they receive notice of the indicated case to ask to show rehabilitation evidence. Otherwise, they have no right to offer evidence of rehabilitation.
The bill requires that at every fair hearing the State consider evidence of rehabilitation, so that people who have been able to address the underlying issue that led to the indicated case are given every opportunity to work and support their families.
Many people are in the SCR because of past drug use. Under current law, they often are not allowed to show evidence of rehabilitation, such as documentation they have completed drug programs and have been testing clean for years.
3. Ensures that if a parent wins their case in Family Court, their employment is not unfairly limited by an inaccurate record in the SCR
Under current law, even if a Family Court judge finds that a parent did not neglect their child, the parent’s record is not automatically cleared despite the judge’s ruling. Currently, the parent must go to a second, duplicative administrative hearing on the very same allegations to clear the record. This is unfair and a waste of state and local resources.
Under A8060A/S6427A, if a parent wins their case in Family Court, they do not have to go through a duplicative fair hearing to clear their name from the SCR. The bill says that if a Family Court did not find evidence of child neglect, the SCR cannot tell an employer something different.
4. Limits unnecessarily harsh collateral consequences by sealing records of neglect at 8 years for most jobs and at 12 years for all jobs, establishing different ramifications for allegations of neglect than for abuse.
Under current law, a parent remains on the SCR for up to 28 years, regardless of whether the allegations involved abuse or neglect.
Under A8060A/S6427A, child abuse cases would continue to remain on the SCR for up to 28 years, but child maltreatment cases, which are generally the result of poverty related issues – such as lack of adequate housing or childcare – would be sealed if the person had no subsequent indicated cases after 8 years.
Under the bill, cases would be sealed for purposes of most employment after 8 years and after 12 years for all jobs.
The bill ensures safety for children:
The bill does not limit the authority of child protective services to remove children from dangerous situations or to obtain supervision, services, or orders of protection to protect children.
Under the bill, sealed records continue to be available to child protective services investigating subsequent concerns about children and to agencies assessing potential foster or adoptive parents or custodians.
The bill is supported by a wide breadth of organizations statewide including:
- The Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York
- Arab-American Family Support Center
- The Bronx Defenders
- Brooklyn Defender Services
- The Center for Family Representation
- Chemung County Public Advocate’s Office
- The Children’s Agenda
- Children’s Aid
- Children’s Defense Fund – New York
- The Children’s Village
- Chinese-American Planning Council
- Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
- Coalition for Homeless Youth
- Court Appointed Special Advocates of NYC
- Families Together in New York State
- Forensic Psychology Consulting, PLLC
- Forestdale, Inc.
- Fulton County Public Defender Office
- Graham Windham
- Harlem Dowling
- The Jewish Board of Family & Children’s Services
- Lansner & Kubitschek
- The Legal Aid Society
- Legal Aid Society of Nassau County
- Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, Family Court Bureau
- Monroe County Public Defender’s Office
- Movement for Family Power
- NYU Law Family Defense Clinic
- Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
- New York City Bar Association
- New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)
- New York County Defender Services
- NYS Citizen Review Panels for Child Protective Services
- NYS Kinship Navigator
- Northern Rivers Family of Services
- Office of the Public Defender, Monroe County
- Onondaga Co. Bar Assoc. Assigned Counsel Program, Inc.
- Rise Magazine
- Rising Ground, Inc.
- Schuyler Center for Analysis & Advocacy
- Sheltering Arms
- Ulster County Public Defender
- Westchester Children’s Association
- Youth Communication
- Youth Represent