Assemblywoman Paulin and Senator Spano Announce Dramatically Improved Process for Preventing Child Fatalities


Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) and Senator Nick Spano (R-Yonkers) announced on Thursday, June 29, that the Legislature has taken significant steps to strengthen the process of reviewing the deaths of abused children and children in the care of child protective services.

At the heart of their efforts is a bill that passed both the Assembly and the Senate last week. The new bill (A.10023/S.6703) increases the number of deaths of children that will be reviewed and bolsters the power of local and regional child fatality review teams (CFRTs).

"This legislation addresses the problems uncovered in the aftermath of the horrible deaths of the two little boys, Elijaha Santana and David Maldonado, Jr. in Yonkers, and Nixzmary Brown in New York City," said Senator Spano. "These children were known to child protective services but the system did not protect them. This is one of the most important initiatives I have undertaken in the State Senate."

The legislation is a result of months of work following statewide hearings held by the Assembly Standing Committees on Children and Families and Oversight, Analysis and Investigation. More than 75 witnesses provided testimony on gaps in the systems designed to protect vulnerable children. Paulin is a member of the Committee on Children and Families, and attended the hearings in Westchester, New York City, Syracuse and Buffalo.

"The hearings were heart wrenching," said Assemblywoman Paulin. "Kids are getting hurt even though so many people in the system care passionately about helping them. It became painfully clear that we must raise our vigilance, improve our effectiveness and prompt a quicker response so that no child in the future becomes a victim. Children don't just die," Paulin said.

A second bill passed by Paulin and Spano (A.11666/S.8082) requires the Commissioner of Health to establish protocols for hospital personnel. "We learned from the testimony that there is no standard procedure for hospital personnel to follow to determine the cause of death when a child dies at the hospital or even to recognize the circumstances that require notification to child protective services," said Paulin. "This bill makes sure that when a child dies in a way that's not related to disease or treatment, hospital personnel will know what they have to do."

Paulin and Spano urge the Governor to sign both bills.


A local forensic pediatrician praised the reforms. "These reforms address important elements of reviewing fatalities, so that communities learn and work towards preventing other children from dying," stated Dr. Jennifer Canter, medical director of Westchester County's Children's Advocacy Center at the Westchester Institute for Human Development and Director of Child Protection for the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. "Westchester's child fatality review team has already identified several concrete goals for prevention using a multi-disciplinary, comprehensive approach to the fatality review process," said Canter. "I commend Assemblywoman Paulin and Senator Spano for working to assure that this process is as powerful as possible here and across the state."

Senator Spano noted that in addition to the new bills, the Legislature secured additional funds in this year's State budget to address gaps in the system. "We allocated $29.5 million in the 2006-07 budget to improve the child protective and abuse prevention systems," said Spano. The monies include $700,000 to establish and fund the local and regional fatality review teams. Spano added, "We know we can and should do all we can to prevent another child from dying. Enhancing the funding and improving the laws to help prevent child fatalities is one step closer to that end."

Earlier this month, Assemblywoman Paulin released her comprehensive review of the recommendations proposed to committee members at the public hearings to improve the effectiveness of the child review process. "Our study of this powerful testimony served both as a catalyst and as a blueprint for much of the new legislation," said Paulin. A copy of the report can be obtained by calling 914-723-1115.

Specific provisions of the legislation

  • More deaths will be reviewed. Child fatality review teams (CFRTs) will be required - not just allowed - to review all deaths of children under the supervision of social services. Also, the teams will be allowed to review all unexplained and unexpected deaths of children under the age of 18, even if the children were not in the system.

  • More power to investigate. CFRTs will have access to records within 21 days of their request. They will also have more timely access to important reports. New time frames require that medical examiners and coroners (who are required to report the findings of their investigation of the death of a child suspected of child abuse) must issue a preliminary report in writing within 60 days from the date of death. Similarly, autopsy reports on deaths of children in foster care and known to the system must now be provided within 60 days of death. Until now, the law did not specify when the reports had to be issued.

  • Multi-disciplinary, comprehensive approach. To maximize resources and generate the best possible ideas for preventing future deaths, CFRT membership is expanded to include all professionals in the systems charged with protecting children - health officials, representatives of the county attorney, state law enforcement and emergency medical services, and pediatricians preferably with expertise in the area of child abuse and maltreatment or forensic pediatrics. The list of people that may be asked to serve on a review team is also expanded, to include representatives from local departments of social services, domestic violence agencies, substance abuse programs, local schools, and family court.

  • Clear standards for hospital personnel. The Commissioner of Health is required to establish protocols that hospital personnel must follow when a child dies in the hospital (or on the way to the hospital) in a way that's not related to illness, disease or proper medical treatment. The protocols will provide guidelines for determining the cause of death and for notifying child protective services.