ALBANY — State child protection bureaucrats have missed opportunities to mend holes in New York’s safety net for vulnerable children by failing to develop a statewide plan to deal with failing county responses to reports of abuse, according to a critical new audit.
A review team employed by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that while administrators from the Office of Children and Family Services formed a review team to identify issues in the delivery of child protection services that could be addressed at a statewide level, the body has not met since April 2021. The review team also failed to issue an annual report on its work, the review said.
The state agency had implemented what they called a “Program Quality Improvement” Review process in early 2020, aiming to review 2,400 cases over a three-year cycle and improve the work of local social services, the audit said.
DiNapoli said the Bureau of Children and Family Services, a bureaucracy under the control of Gov. Kathy Hochul, should do more to ensure county youth services improve their response to child abuse complaints.
“The results of this review should be a sobering call to action to ensure vulnerable children in New York are protected.” said the auditor.
Some problems have arisen with the child abuse investigations of the local Department of Social Services “predominant”, such as the adequacy of how they reviewed previous reports of child abuse and made any necessary case contacts, the comptroller’s report said.
While the state agency has identified the issues on a case-by-case basis, it has yet to attempt to fix them at the statewide level, the audit found.
“While identifying deficiencies after the fact can provide useful information and areas for improvement, ultimately the worst outcome has already occurred.” DiNapoli’s office said in a statement. “It is critical that any deficiencies are proactively addressed to prevent child deaths.”
DiNapoli’s team recommended that the agency work with local social services to improve the documentation offered in their investigative reports and ensure case notes are entered in a detailed and timely manner.
In response to the audit, Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Acting Commissioner of OCFS, noted that representatives from her agency lead a nationwide child death review team that develops strategies to prevent child deaths
The state agency is required by law to review any investigation into child death for allegations of abuse or ill-treatment and then produce a summary report.
Miles-Gustave also expressed her appreciation for having carried out the examination determined by the state authority “successful supervisory and monitoring activities” about deficiencies in local child protection investigations.
At the time of the review, OCFS was managed by Sheila Poole. The former commissioner accepted a top job at the American Public Human Services Association this month.
Miles-Gustave, who is also a member of the New York Cannabis Advisory Board, was appointed acting commissioner of the agency by Hochul this month.
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