New York Gov. George E. Pataki signed legislation in mid-February loosening laws requiring secrecy in child abuse investigations. The measure, which won overwhelming approval in both the Senate and Assembly, came in response to the death two months earlier of 6-year- old Elisa Izquierdo.
The girl’s death, in which her mother is charged, sparked a public outcry over the New York City Child Welfare Administration’s handling of Elisa’s case. Case workers had been told by Elisa’s relatives, friends and teachers that her mother abused her. After Elisa’s death, agency officials refused to discuss the case with state legislators, citing confidentiality laws.
The new law overturns a prohibition preventing child welfare workers from releasing information about investigations they conduct. It seeks more accountability by requiring authorities to publicly disclose this information when a person is charged with child abuse or when an abused child dies.
The law also overturns a confidentiality statute requiring the destruction of records when an allegation of abuse is investigated but not substantiated. The old law often prevented workers investigating a case from knowing about previous allegations against the same individual, critics had charged. Now, “unfounded” claims records will be preserved and accessible to case workers for up to 10 years after the child’s 18th birthday.
The New York Civil Liberties Union decried the law as a violation of privacy rights. (A.B. 8392(b))