NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

November 24, 2015
By Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

New York has struck a small blow for sanity and against the secrecy in which the state’s child protective agency operates. In so doing, it’s brought to light yet another detriment of that secrecy, one that hadn’t occurred to me before.

As readers of the NPO blog well know, I’ve long inveighed against the secrecy every state grants its child protective employees. The stated reason for that secrecy is that the abuse and neglect children suffer at the hands of caregivers shouldn’t be a matter for public consumption. That theory has it that children would be traumatized a second time if their stories appeared in the newspapers and on television.

I very much doubt that such a thing would happen because the vast majority of those cases are simply too repetitive and mundane for the news media to be interested in. Yes, there are lurid ones that could provide clickbait and market share for news outlets, but for that there’s a simple fix. Media sources could simply be required by law to provide anonymity to the child in question, or anyone whose identity might serve to identify the child.

That simple, straightforward approach would solve the problem – if there is one – of re-traumatizing the child, while providing much-needed information to the public and lawmakers about the doings of CPS. In short, it’s much less restrictive of the flow of information than is the current system.

And, as I’ve said many times before, that system also serves to shield malfeasance on the part of child welfare workers from public view. With the knowledge that only their compatriots within CPS will know what’s been done – or not done – in a particular case, caseworkers are hardly encouraged to do their best. And as we know from long, hard experience, the behavior of caseworkers is all too frequently far, far less than we have a right to expect. We read daily of caseworkers’ shocking failure to act in cases of real risk to children and absurd overreaction where there is no such risk. That malfeasance thrives in the secrecy with which state laws cloak CPS agencies.

This we know.

What I didn’t know, and what the State of New York has now taught me is that there’s yet another detriment to that secrecy (CBS 6 Albany, 11/23/15).

Governor Cuomo has signed off on a bill that gives police access to records from Child Protective Services when a child is reported missing.

Two state lawmakers and Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple have been pushing the legislation after the killing of 5-year-old Kenneth White in the Town of Knox.

Sheriff Apple says precious time was lost last year when the boy was reported missing, because of hurdles in the law that ultimately prevented investigators from obtaining CPS records in a timely manner…

Apple says when his office requested the CPS records during the search for Kenneth White, investigators were denied.

In the Kenneth White case, the new law wouldn’t have saved the boy’s life. His cousin, Tiffany Van Alstyne had already killed him and hidden his body when police were notified. Still, it’s likely that giving police the key to unlock CPS records will save children’s lives in the future.

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