New York Governor Cuomo Vetoes Bill to Limit State’s Abuse and Neglect Registry

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Governor Andrew Cuomo. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) vetoed legislation late last week that would have expanded due process safeguards for parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children.

The bill would have significantly reduced the time parents’ names must remain on a state database of child abuse and neglect claims. It also would have raised the standard of evidence required before child welfare authorities could escalate investigations of parents accused of neglect.

“There are significant fiscal implications associated with implementation that were not budgeted for, nor were funds identified in this legislation,” read Cuomo’s veto message, dated last Friday. “Additionally … By allowing the records of individuals with serious histories of abuse or maltreatment of children to be sealed, New York can place children at risk of harm.”

Cuomo also indicated that he wanted to figure out compromise changes on both issues.

“There are widely acknowledged reforms needed to New York’s operation and administration of the [State Central Registry for child abuse and neglect claims] and child protective systems,” his message said. “Therefore, I am directing the Office of Children and Family Services to identify reforms … that can be implemented within existing resources, without jeopardizing safety.”

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D), who chairs the Senate’s Children and Families Committee and was the bill’s lead sponsor, told The Imprint she was “not anticipating a veto. But [Cuomo] has agreed to immediately sit down with us when we return to Albany to try to work out the concerns that they have, so that we can finally have a bill he will sign.”

The bill, which was sponsored in the state assembly by Ellen Jaffee of Rockland County (D), passed by wide margins in the state legislature in June. It had broad support from advocates across the child welfare space, including foster parents and some foster care agencies.

Joyce McMillan and other parent advocates and state lawmakers lobby for child welfare reforms in the New York capitol building in May. Credit: Brooklyn Defender Services

The Montgomery-Jaffee proposal would have required records for parents to be sealed after eight years in cases involving neglect, or after a family court case resolves their case favorably. The bill also made it easier to appeal to have records sealed. The proposal further required caseworkers to find more evidence — a “preponderance of evidence” — before indicating that an allegation against a parent was credible. The current standard only requires “some” evidence, a lower standard than other states.

David Hansell, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services in New York City, home to more foster youth than any other jurisdiction in the state, told New York Nonprofit Media in February he welcomed a re-examination of the system.

The veto was an especially crushing defeat for advocates for accused parents, whose names can stay on the register after their youngest child turns 28 under current law — even if a judge ultimately rejects the allegations against the parent. Appealing to have your name removed is also complicated.

“I’m disappointed at the governor’s missed opportunity to align New York with 41 other states that have sensible and reasonable laws regarding the registry, that do not put anyone at risk,” said Joyce McMillan, a family coordinator with the nonprofit Sinergia, Inc. and frequent presence in Albany this year pushing for the bill with legal groups like the Brooklyn Defender Services. “Because this legislation was vetoed, families will continue to suffer tremendously as the state of New York continues to impose sentences of poverty on families who disproportionately reside in communities that are already financially strapped and with limited resources.”

“We need to understand and take into account, the impact on families based on this punishment we have created,” said Sen. Montgomery. “We provide more support for formerly incarcerated people who perhaps have done worse things, than we do for parents who make a mistake in parenting their children.”

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