Legislature reconsiders record confidentiality after child’s death
NEW YORK–Responding to intense news coverage and public outcry over the torture and murder of a 6-year-old Manhattan girl, a committee of the New York legislature held hearings in early December to reconsider a law that makes child welfare case files confidential.
The lawmakers and family members of Elisa Izquierdo, who died November 22 when her mother allegedly smashed her into a concrete wall, weighed in on whether Section 422 of New York’s State Social Services law may have been responsible for the girl’s death. The law prohibits child protective service workers and agencies from divulging information about child abuse reports and investigations to the public. It allows disclosure in some circumstances to physicians and criminal justice authorities.
Officials from the Child Welfare Agency (CWA) who were called to testify about the agency’s decisions in Izquierdo’s case refused to answer the committee’s questions because, they asserted, the confidentiality law prevents them from doing so.
Critics of the law testified that it blocks communication between government agencies about children at risk and shields child protection agencies from public inquiry. Defenders of the confidentiality provisions said they protect abused children from notoriety, and parents and custodians from the stigma of false accusations.
State Sen. Roy M. Goodman (R-Manhattan), who chaired the hearing by the New York State Senate Committee on Investigations, Taxation and Government Operations, wants to revamp the law. To that end he has drafted several bills that, he says, would strike a better balance between privacy and accountability.
Senate Bill 2263 would allow the city and state comptrollers to audit child welfare records, provide for public release of fatality reports compiled by the State Department of Social Services, and empower ombudsmen to see confidential records of social service agencies under certain circumstances.
The bill would also authorize child protective agencies to release information on their involvement with a family when the facts of the case have become public knowledge.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has directed the CWA to draft its own legislation addressing the concerns raised by Izquierdo’s death.