|Sheldon Silver, Speaker • William Scarborough, Chair • September 2005|
It has been my pleasure serving as the chair of the Standing Committee on Children and Families in the New York State Assembly. This session was both busy and productive. I am proud of the accomplishments of the 2005 session and am looking forward to continuing to do all that I can to ensure that New York’s children are safe and that their families and caregivers have the resources they need to lead secure and productive lives.
As you may know, this has been the year of reform at the New York State Assembly. This reform, I believe has led to a more responsive and efficient legislative process and has enabled the passage of many important measures. My legislation, bill number A.7225-A, known as the “Permanency Bill,” provides much needed reform.
Enactment of this bill will make certain that children in foster care are provided a safe and permanent home with their biological family, and when that is not possible, with a foster or adoptive family.
The safety and well-being of the children in New York State are a priority for me. All of the legislation highlighted here illustrates my commitment to the safety of our children as well as the need for children to grow up in a stable, loving family environment.
Major Legislative Initiatives
In 2001 and 2003, federal audits found that many of New York State’s foster care cases did not meet federal standards, thus putting federal funding the State receives through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act for foster care at risk. After years of discussion and debate over the state’s response to this situation, a three-way agreement between the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor enabled the passage of the Permanency Bill. This legislation provides the reforms necessary to meet federal guidelines laid out in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and the Social Security Act, and to improve permanency for children.
The Permanency Bill amends the Family Court Act, the Social Services Law, the Education Law, Domestic Relations Law, Civil Practice Law and Rules, and the Mental Hygiene Law. Here are some of its major provisions:
Children in foster care are one of our most vulnerable populations. It is unacceptable for children to remain in foster care or other temporary placements longer than needed due to policies and procedures that just don’t work. It has been an honor to sponsor and pass legislation that will provide the stability and security that every child needs. This bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Relative/Foster Parent Bill
This legislation builds on the provisions in the Permanency Bill. The New York State Assembly believes that keeping families together should be the State’s primary objective. This legislation provides a greater opportunity for families to care for children when the child is unable to remain with their original caregiver. Many grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters or brothers are able to provide care for children facing foster care. Often, extended family members do not know that a child has been placed until it is too late, even though they would have been willing and able to care for the child. This legislation requires that local social services districts search for any relatives who may be a resource for a child. It also expedites the foster care investigation and certificate process. This means that a child could be immediately placed with a relative, and the relative could quickly be approved as a foster parent. This bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Office of the Child Advocate
This legislation would establish an independent Office of the Child Advocate, vested with broad powers to investigate practices within the State’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
In addition, this office would evaluate the procedures of, and the services provided by, the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and any local child protective service or local department of social services. The office would review and investigate complaints related to those agencies, review and make recommendations about state polices and regulations and review all facilities or institutions which provide residential care for children.
The Committee on Children and Families held a public hearing in May of this year to hear from interested parties on the need to establish such office. For more details see the hearing section of this newsletter.
According to a Report to the Governor from the NYS Council on Children and Families entitled, “Interagency Out-of-State Residential Placement Work Group,” there are approximately 1,400 children in out-of-state placements. These are children who cannot receive the type of services they need in their own communities and are thus pulled away from family, friends and other supports. According to this work group, children are often placed out-of-state for 1 to 6 years. Furthermore, the report identifies that these out-of-state placements cost New York State $200 million every year. Questions remain about this practice and whether this is in the best interest of the children being placed.
Assembly bill 8923-A, sponsored by Assembly Member Millman requires the Council on Children and Families within OCFS to establish an Out-of State Placement Committee. The Committee will be responsible for tracking programs in other states that provide services to children from New York State, as well as reviewing the fees charged by each program. The Committee will make recommendations to prevent children from being placed in other states and to return the children who are already placed. Lastly, the Committee must work toward building or redesigning in-state programs and funding streams to support the service needs in New York State.
This bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Safe and Fair Equal Treatment for Youth (Safety) Act
This legislation is a response to incidents of discrimination and harassment by peers and staff within facilities operated by the OCFS. It would require that all youth receiving services in an OCFS facility would be provided the opportunity for rehabilitation without discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. This would be accomplished by updating policies and regulations, increasing awareness and sensitivity through training and information, and developing a safe way for youth to address any issues of discrimination and harassment. This bill is in the Assembly Codes Committee.
Safe Harbour for Exploited Youth
This legislation would provide victims of sexual exploitation crisis intervention, short-term emergency shelter care, long-term placement and community-based programs to provide counseling and referral for education and vocational training and health care. Law enforcement personnel who may encounter sexually exploited youth would be provided training to identify the needs of the youth and to assist them in gaining the necessary services.
This legislation would require these youth to obtain services through a Person In Need of Supervision (PINS) proceeding, not the criminal justice system. This is an important step in protecting our children from abuse and sexual exploitation. This bill is in the Codes Committee in the New York State Assembly.
This legislation requires local districts to provide preventive or diversion services to at risk youth. Existing services must be utilized in advance of a PINS proceeding. This legislation also reduces the stay of a PINS youth in a detention facility from 30 days to 15 days. This change will dramatically shorten the length of time that children are staying in detention and link them up with needed services in a more appropriate time frame. This has the potential to impact thousands of youth and their families while generating a savings to the State. The Governor signed this bill into law as Chapter 57 of the laws of 2005.
The following legislation is an on-going attempt to improve the child welfare system in New York State. While much work is needed, the committee is pleased with the legislation that has been advanced.
• Foster Care/Adoption
This legislation would require that during an adoption preceding, the agency, the adoptive parents and the biological parents have independent representation. This bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
• Child Protection
This legislation establishes a demonstration project within the CPS system. It provides a new approach to protecting children in a non-investigative, non-adversarial, service-oriented approach. This new approach would target families with a low risk of abuse and provide services to prevent any further child abuse or maltreatment. This bill has passed the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Adding Members of the Clergy to the list of Mandated Reporters (A.912-A – McEneny)
This legislation adds members of the clergy to the list of mandated reporters and adds a requirement that all mandated reporters report child abuse committed by any mandated reporter in addition to child abuse in a family setting. This will expand the net of possible reportable child abuse or maltreatment cases. This bill has passed the Assembly but has not been acted upon by the Senate.
Adding Firefighters to the list of Mandated Reporters (A.8621 – Scarborough)
This legislation adds firefighters to the list of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. This bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
This legislation enables families to gain needed treatment for their child without losing custody of that child to the State. This bill has passed the Assembly but has not been acted upon by the Senate.
Hearings and Roundtables
Child prostitution and other forms of child sexual exploitation, including the use of children as dancers in strip clubs and the practice of offering children shelter and food in return for sexual favors, is an enormous problem in the United States.
This Committee held a Roundtable in April of this year to explore this issue. Four girls, ages 15 and 16, shared their stories of sexual exploitation that began at the ages of 10 or 11. These young girls’ stories started with difficult family environments and histories of abuse and neglect. They attempted to find a safe place away from family violence and were lured into another violent, abusive situation. These girls were able to participate in the only program in the state which helps them obtain a stable living environment and educational and vocational goals. All four girls spoke of their multiple arrests and criminal justice records that will follow them into adulthood. Because of these brave young ladies, it has become clear that we are not doing enough to care for and protect our young children. While four girls from New York City were willing to speak, there are hundreds more young girls and boys all over the state who are suffering in silence.
The Safe Harbour for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, (A.6597 Scarborough) was developed in response to the needs of this vulnerable population. This legislation would enable children who are forced into prostitution to have access to services and a safe living environment. Further legislation is currently being developed to increase the penalties for adults who sexually exploit children.
Office of the Child Advocate
There have been several incidents reported in the media detailing dangerous and sometimes fatal conditions for children in state-regulated and state-run programs that have raised concerns about the safety and well-being of children who are in need of the State’s care and protection. Incidents such as the death of a child in a family-based child care program, just after an inspector had been monitoring that program, the use of experimental treatment for foster children living with HIV and AIDS, and the death of a three-month-old child who was found unresponsive with numerous fractured bones and bruises in a New York City run homeless shelter, all raise concerns about the quality of care being provided to children in state-run, state-regulated, and state-sponsored programs.
On May 12, 2005 this Committee hosted a Public Hearing on the Establishment of an Independent Office of the Child Advocate, the proposed legislation, A.6334, is sponsored by Assembly Member Barbara Clark. This bill is necessary because there are some significant gaps in the child welfare, juvenile justice and child care systems in New York. Committee Chair William Scarborough has been a strong supporter of this legislation. After hearing the testimony presented at this hearing, his resolve has been strengthened and it has become very clear that this legislation is absolutely necessary. Assemblyman Scarborough will stand shoulder to shoulder with Assembly Member Clark as they move ahead.
Mentoring programs take place within a wide variety of settings and take on all sizes and shapes. Most mentors are volunteers and have a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds. They are often recruited from area businesses, government agencies, community organizations, churches and professional associations. These mentors and mentees have various types of relationship with various levels of supervision and guidance. Currently, there are no statutory guidelines or oversight for mentoring programs in New York State.
On May 13, 2005 the committee hosted a Public Hearing on Mentoring Programs in New York State. This hearing was vital for understanding the need for oversight and the challenges different types of oversight would present for different programs. The testimony illustrated the benefits youth gain from mentoring programs and the potential risks that abound when programs are not administered appropriately. Many mentoring programs have been able to access criminal histories of potential mentors through a federal program, Safety Net, which is set to expire in January 2006. Continued discussion has led to additional proposed legislation which will be discussed further in the 2006 Assembly Session.
Committee on Children and Families
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