Assemblywoman Amy Paulin Holds Public Hearing on Child Fatality Review Process

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and members of the Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families held a public hearing on the effectiveness of the child fatality review process in New York State. The hearing was held at Pace University - White Plains Campus. She was joined by Assemblymembers Adam Bradley, Michele Titus, William Scarborough, who is the Chair of the Children and Families Committee, and twelve expert testifiers.

The hearing’s schedule and location were intentional. On July 29, 2005, two boys who were under the watch of Westchester’s Child Protective Services were scalded to death in their parents’ home. The parents were immediately charged with the deaths and the caseworker was fired. "Tragedies like this compel us to review the current child protection system and make needed improvements," Assemblywoman Amy Paulin replied when asked about the purpose of the hearing.

Currently, New York State law requires the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) to complete a fatality review for any deceased child who has had any official contact with the Child Protective System. That review must be completed within six months of the tragedy. Paulin noted that few reviews are submitted on-time. Also, most of the testifiers stated that the six month review period is too long. A faster turn around time is needed to enable officials to correct the system before another child is at risk. Lauren Perrotto, the Child Fatality Review Team Coordinator of Rensselaer County, agreed and also recommended that the state create a database of all reviews so that each county can learn from one another.

Secondly, many of the testifiers advocated that all unexplained child fatalities – not just children who are already in the system – go through a fatality review. Since it is unusual for a child to die unnaturally, law enforcement officers, public health officials and child protective caseworkers must thoroughly investigate every unexplained death in order to correctly identify failures inherent in a system that is designed to protect children. Assemblywoman Paulin will be working on legislation to broaden the child fatality review process to include all children. Paulin stated at the closing of the hearing, "With the recent deaths in Westchester County and New York City, it is apparent that current practices are insufficient, the status quo is not good enough. This public hearing has been an enormous help in making me better understand what needs to be changed if we are serious about protecting children."

Other issues that still need to be addressed are: the need for more Child Advocacy Centers around the state; developing uniform protocols in hospitals when a child fatality occurs; adding public health experts and domestic violence advocates to existing fatality review teams; and, what can be done about chronic child neglect.

Assemblywoman Paulin said that the Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families is continuing to accept written input into the effectiveness of New York’s child fatality review process and will hold additional hearings around the state.