Special Efforts Being Made in New York to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

Senate Bill 137, sponsored by Sen. Betty Little, would require hair follicle testing of an infant or toddler under the age of 3 who is in the vicinity of a parent, guardian or legally responsible person who is arrested on a drug charge. The legislation, known as Kayleigh Mae’s Law, is named after a 13-month-old child in Washington County who died in 2015 after being given heroin and cocaine for 10 months after birth. At this writing, the bill has passed the Senate; the Assembly version, Assembly Bill A3900, is being considered by the Assembly Children and Families Committee. [Recommendations 5.1a, 7.2b]

Senate Bill 3146, sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden, establishes a statewide standard of no more than 15 active cases per month per full-time child protective services caseworker.  According to the legislative justification, smaller caseloads are important to the success of child protective services; New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services has taken this approach and has substantially lowered their caseload ratios to the benefit of the children. This proposal builds upon a 2006 Office of Children and Family Services study on Child Protective Services caseloads. This measure has passed the Senate and Assembly and at this writing awaits review by the Governor.  [Recommendation 5.1a]

Programs that begin working with parents during the prenatal period and right after birth provide the greatest chance of reducing risk factors for fatality and promoting positive childhood outcomes. One such program is Healthy Families New York (HFNY), an OCFS-led home visiting program that focuses on the safety of children by supporting families in high-risk communities. HFNY currently operates 37 programs throughout the state. The program has been rigorously evaluated over a seven-year period to determine its effectiveness in preventing child maltreatment and improving success in school, positive parenting and birth outcomes. For mothers involved in a substantiated child protective services report prior to entering the program, HFNY significantly reduced the rate of subsequent substantiated reports and generated even greater reductions in the rate of cases opened for preventive services. Participating mothers reported engaging in 80 percent fewer acts of serious physical abuse, when the target child was seven years old, than mothers in the evaluation control group. OCFS, in collaboration with the Center for Human Services Research at State University of New York Albany, has embarked on a 15-year follow up with the participating mothers and expects to provide findings in 2019. [Recommendation 7.1j]

OCFS, alone and in partnership with the NYS Department of Health (DOH) and other state, local and national organizations, has engaged in important initiatives designed to prevent child abuse/neglect fatalities.  Among other things, OCFS provides funding to 18 Child Fatality Review Teams throughout New York State. Each Review Team conducts in-depth examinations of individual child fatality cases and identifies local trends and patterns to develop preventive and educational initiatives in their counties. On an annual basis, OCFS convenes a two-day summit for members of Child Fatality Review Teams to share information and collaborate on new strategies to reduce fatalities. [Recommendation 6.3]

In approximately half of the fatalities for infants under the age of one, OCFS has noted at least one unsafe sleep risk factor. Recognizing the significance of unsafe sleep risk factors in child fatalities, OCFS has invested significant resources to prevent unsafe sleep-related fatalities. OCFS is implementing and coordinating several safe sleep efforts throughout the state.  For example, it collaborates with DOH to conduct Safe Sleep Kits in select counties in New York State. Two Child Fatality Review Teams and four hospitals are currently participating in the project. This initiative involves giving parents of newborns a safe sleep kit containing a tote bag, a door hanger, a baby book and a DVD with safe sleep information, as well as a sleep sack. In addition, parents are asked to give (or decline) permission to be contacted approximately one-month post-discharge about their sleep practices. The goals of this initiative are to educate parents on safe sleep practices and to determine if providing parents with safe sleep information has an impact on safe sleep practices. The follow-up survey will allow OCFS to measure the usage and effectiveness of the safe sleep educational products. Also, OCFS purchased approximately 3,400 “Pack-n-Play” cribs for distribution to families in need; it partners with local departments of social services and community based organizations to distribute these cribs and educational materials to families that had no other means of keeping their infants in a safe sleeping environment. OCFS’ updated its “Safe Sleep for Your Baby” video , which provides information about the ABCs of safe sleep; Alone, on the Back, and in a Crib. Also, OCFS convened a statewide Safe Sleep Strategy Forum, including about 45 participants from across systems, including DOH, Administration of Children’s Services, Casey Family Programs, the Westchester Child Fatality Review Team, Westchester County Department of Social Services, The Center for Sudden Infant and Child Death Resource Center, and the Monroe County Safe Sleep Coalition. The results of this effort were provided to DOH to incorporate into the statewide Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network’s Subcommittee on Safe Sleep. [7.1c]

Local effort in New York City: New York City’s Instant Response Teams were developed and implemented as a joint effort between child protective services and law enforcement in response to a high-profile child fatality. Their purpose is to improve coordination between child protective services and law enforcement to enhance child safety. They achieve this through a real-time database for information-sharing and through rapid response to all child abuse reports. [Recommendation 6.1g]

Local effort in Madison County: The Madison County Fatality Review Team distributed posters and billboards urging parents to "Look Before You Lock," to help prevent death and serious injury to children left in hot cars. [Recommendation 7.1]

Local safe sleep efforts in various counties: In Albany County, the Safe Sleep Campaign team distributed safe sleep posters and magnets, as well as child abuse prevention magnets.  Allegany and Cattaraugus counties launched an “ABCs of Safe Sleep” campaign with nine billboards along major travel routes; Binghamton County posted safe sleep advertisements on key bus stop shelters throughout the city; Broome County aired more than 600 public service radio announcements, providing tips on creating a safe sleep environment, and developed Safe Baby booklets that Community Health Workers provide to families during home visits, outreach and parent classes; Chemung County purchased pack and plays through Cribs for Kids, to pass out to families who do not have a safe sleeping area for their children, and included safe sleep materials in the mailing of every birth certificate in the county; Safe Sleep Campaign Team members from Oneida and Herkimer counties collaborate and discuss issues, practices and policies surrounding safe sleep, with the goal of reducing infant sleep-related deaths in both counties, and support a portable crib program, consumer education and provider education; Onondaga County provides a safe sleep education program for female inmates and its Safe Sleep Campaign Team worked with Babies "R" Us to remove bumper pads from the store’s crib displays; the Westchester County Safe Sleep Campaign Team works on countywide safe sleep initiatives, with materials available in Spanish, Chinese and English distributed widely at health care facilities county-wide; the Schoharie Team provided smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to homes in need, and sent letters to local hotels and motels to promote the safe sleep message. [Recommendation7.1c]