On October 13, 2020, the Albany Times Union reported that the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has declined to release reports on the deaths of 725 children over the past 10 years.
According to the Times Union, when a child who is under the supervision of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system dies, OCFS is required by law to report on whether CPS employees fulfilled their obligation to investigate any prior abuse allegations. However, OCFS also has the authority to withhold the release of its own report if it believes releasing the report would not further the best interest of the deceased child’s surviving siblings or of other children residing in the same household. Furthermore, the Times Union indicates that “OCFS often suppresses reports on child deaths at the recommendation of county governments—the same county governments whose CPS workers are critiqued in the reports.” In one particularly egregious case, OCFS has declined to release its report on an autistic eight-year-old who died in January in Suffolk County; the county currently faces a $200 million lawsuit from the child’s mother.
Two questions are raised here. First, is it appropriate for OCFS to have the unilateral authority to decide whether to release its own reports on children who have lost their lives while under CPS supervision? Second, should counties have input into decisions regarding whether or not such reports are released? New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms believes that the answers are “no” and “no.” We recommend that the Legislature pass a law to facilitate transparency in regard to these OCFS reports.