New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has released an audit that has found that the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) can take additional steps to better protect children from harm. The OCFS currently oversees the locally administered child welfare system, which investigates reports of alleged child abuse and child fatalities.
The audit found that the OCFS can improve by having local departments of social services develop and submit a Program Improvement Plan (PIP) when the review of a child fatality investigation finds statutory or regulatory compliance failures and deficiencies in practice. “The findings in this audit should be a sobering call to action to ensure New York’s vulnerable children are protected,” DiNapoli said. “New York’s Office of Children and Family Services consistently finds flaws in child abuse investigations that preceded a child’s death. It can do more to ensure that local social service providers (LDSS) throughout New York improve operations so they can better respond to abuse complaints and save children’s lives.”
The audit found that the OCFS generally identifies deficiencies in child fatality investigations and in prior investigations relating to that child. However, the PIP only applies on a case-by-case basis and fails to make recommendations to fix systemic problems that might be occurring statewide. The audit also found that from 2018 to 2021, the OCFS received around 1,400 reports that involved allegations of fatal abuse or maltreatment of children. It added that the OCFS issued 2,752 citations to LDSS that indicated a problem with local investigations.
The audit also found that the greatest number of citations were issued in the Bronx (317), Manhattan (248), Brooklyn (240), Onondaga County (228), and Erie County (137). This suggests that investigative weaknesses existed prior to the child’s death.
To address the problems identified in the audit, the OCFS should establish procedures that more accurately reflect the nature of calls that are to be non-reports, as well as reasons for such determinations. It should also address deficiencies that are found in Program Quality Improvements and child fatality reviews across statewide LDSSs.
The OCFS has responded to the audit’s recommendations, with officials agreeing with the findings and expressing appreciation for the OSC’s acknowledgment of the steps that the agency has taken to improve oversight and monitoring.
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