The children most vulnerable to abuse, maltreatment, and neglect are arguably those who live apart from their parents, in foster group homes, detention facilities, or in other such institutions. New York State has recognized the special vulnerability of institutionalized children. Potential child abuse in private homes is investigated by local county agencies; however State statute requires that the State itself, namely its Department of Social Services, investigate all allegations of child abuse in institutions.
Unfortunately, the Department of Social Services has not fulfilled its obligation.
This report addresses the accuracy and integrity of NYS Department of Social Services ("Department" or "DSS") child abuse investigations. Our research has uncovered a pattern of mismanagement by the Department:
These problems are especially acute in the Department's largest office, its New York City office. Last year this office was able to substantiate only 4% of the instances of child abuse reported to it.
One of the cases this office claimed to be unable to substantiate involved a seven-year-old girl who was apparently repeatedly raped last year by other children at St. Joseph's Children's Services Agency in Brooklyn. When deposed in a lawsuit brought by the little girl's mother, the DSS investigator testified that boys at the facility had told her about their sexual contact with the girl, staff members had admitted witnessing the abuse, and one staff member had admitted engaging in sexually provocative behavior with the girl. In addition, medical evidence which the investigator failed to request confirmed that the little girl had been raped since she arrived since she arrived at St. Joseph's. Nevertheless, the DSS investigator's official finding in the case was that there was "no credible evidence" of child abuse or staff neglect.
The accuracy of the Department's investigations is crucial. When a report of child abuse is determined to be unfounded, records are expunged, and the case disappears without a trace. Every time DSS misjudges the evidence before it, a maltreated or neglected child goes unprotected, and an abuser learns that he or she can hurt children with impunity.
The accuracy of the Department's investigations is crucial. When a report of child abuse is determined to be unfounded, records are expunged, and the case disappears without a trace. Every time DSS misjudges the evidence before it, a maltreated or neglected child goes unprotected, and an abuser learns that he or she can hurt children with impunity.
DSS itself has called into question the accuracy of its investigatory findings. A 1990 internal DSS evaluation examined plummeting substantiation rates and found them unacceptable; the evaluators characterized Department investigations as superficial, sloppy, and unprofessional. Though the report clear made DSS aware that the poor quality of its investigations needed to be addressed substantion rates have fallen even further since then.
This 1990 report, titled Final Report On Activities And Operations Relative To Child Abuse And Maltreatment Reports As Conducted by DF&CS Regional Offices, made several recommendations designed to professionalize and standardize the Department's work:
These recommendations are so basic as to be self-evident. They should have been implemented at the first opportunity; yet they were ignored.
Chronic apathy, the same apathy that often surrounds "throwaway kids: cast into group homes and institutions, characterizes DSS's management of its investigatory program. Our research raises the question of whether the Department may be trying to rid itself of its statutory responsibility to protect these children.
The Department has tried to hide its mismanagement of its investigatory program behind broad claims of confidentiality. While some information for our research was supplied by the Department, it has thus far refused our request for access to individual case files and any internal evaluations subsequent the 1990 self-evaluation.
DSS has recently announced that it is initiating another internal evaluation of its child abuse investigations. Given its non-response to the highly critical 1990 report, little corrective action can be expected.
Yet corrective action is essential. DSS investigations are a critical component of the State's child-protective framework. Our report calls on the Governor to convene an independent, intergovernmental body to oversee the Department's child abuse investigation program for institutionalized children.
In its current form, the DSS child abuse investigation program is a tragedy for this state's most helpless children.
Research note: Research for this report was done in late 1992 and the first half of 1993. Information was supplied both by the Department and its independent experts.
The Department was reluctant to provide us with all the information we requested. In November 1992, we requested copies of all internal reviews of the New York City regional office. No internal DSS reviews were supplied.
In June of 1993, Acting DSS Commissioner Kaladijan wrote us that in the six years DSS had been doing child abuse investigations, "...there has been no systematic review of our investigative procedures..."
The following day, June 2, we again requested copies of any internal DSS reviews of any regional office investigations. On June 25, the Department finally supplied its 1990 report to us -- directly contradicting the Acting Commissioner's statement that there was no such report.
Having uncovered a handful of apparently shoddy investigations, our office also requested access to DSS investigatory case files, edited to maintain confidentiality. DSS chose to deny our request, however. In a May 12, 1993 letter to us the Department wrote,
A key reason for this [denial] is the workload implications of comprehensively redacting these files."
On July 15, 1993, we requested an copy of what is reportedly a recent DSS internal evaluation. Our request was made under the Freedom of Information Law and was denied by DSS. Our appeal of the DSS denial is pending.
Since 1974, New York State has maintained a central office to track child abuse allegations of all kinds. 2 The New York State Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment (known as the Register or SCR), operated by the Department of Social Services, does the following:
The SCR's enabling legislation, enacted in 1973, created a class of "mandated reporters" who are obligated to report abuse or neglect. This group includes policemen, doctors, nurses, teachers, and others who regularly come in contact with children. Calls to the Central Register toll-free hotline, however, can be taken from anyone who suspects the on-going abuse of a child aged 17 or below. About 130,000 reports of child abuse or neglect, involving 210,000 children, are made annually to the SCR's hotline. 3
Once a call is received, the SCR determines where the report should be referred for investigation. 4 Allegations concerning children who reside in a private home or foster home are immediately sent to the county or county-contracted agency responsible for child welfare, generally known as the local Child Protective Service or CPS. The New York City Human Resources Administration serves as the Child Protective Service in the city's five counties.
For children living in state-licensed group homes or institutions, the allegations are sent instead to the appropriate regional DSS office for investigation and follow up. 5 Group homes are generally group foster homes, and institutions are often reformatories or juvenile-justice facilities. DSS regional offices are located in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and New York City. In 1991, approximately 250 child abuse allegations were referred to the four upstate offices and 450 to the New York regional office, known as the Metropolitan Regional Office or MRO. Since state statute assigned DSS the duty of investigating institutional abuse allegations in 1986, it has conducted roughly 4000 such investigations.
State-wide, DSS employs 19 Child Abuse Specialists as investigators, 12 of whom are assigned to the MRO. By state statute, the regional office must complete its investigation and file its report with the Central Register within 60 days of the time the allegation was referred to it. 6
As the first step in a DSS investigation, the regional office is required to determine whether children are in immediate danger. If so, the office must decide what action the institution should take to protect the children and them make sure that its proposals are carried out.
The regional office ultimately resolves whether the alleged abuse has occurred. In the lexicon of child-abuse terminology, confirming an allegation is called "indicating" or "founding" a case; an allegation which has been substantiated is called an "indicated" or "founded" case. (The terms "substantiated", "indicated", and "founded" will be used interchangeably in our report.)
It is important to note that a DSS investigation is not a criminal investigation and its findings are not criminal findings. Thus, there is a lower standard of proof for DSS abuse determinations. The statute governing the Register states that a finding is to be based on whether "...some credible evidence of the alleged child abuse or maltreatment exists." 7 During the course of an investigation, investigators may decided that abuse of a criminal nature has probably occurred. In such instances, the regional office is supposed [to] continue its investigation and to immediately notify the local District Attorney's office, which may initiate a parallel investigation. 8
Once the regional office finding has been determined, it is transmitted directly to the Register in Albany on a two-page Form 2223, which simply lists the finding and a brief description of the investigation.
Statewide, roughly 32% of all allegations received by the Register and investigated by the local county Child Protective Service result in an indicated finding. Eight percent of all completed DSS-investigated, institutional abuse allegations were judged to be founded in 1992. (DSS finished 1992 with a significant backlog of uncompleted cases in the MRO. Of 478 cases referred to the MRO, 145 were still pending at year's end.)
When an allegation is determined to be unfounded, the Register expunges its records of the case 9. The regional office also purges its records.
In an indicated case, the State Central Register records the finding and places the child abuser(s) on its screening list. After making an indicated finding, DSS has seven days to inform the child's parents or guardians and the offending institution. The institution is then obligated to take the steps specified by DSS in a "corrective action plan". Removal of suspected child abusers can be stipulated in the plans. Persons listed as suspected child abusers can be stipulated in the plans. Persons listed as suspected child abusers are prohibited from holding jobs or other positions in which their contact with children could place those children at risk.
DSS may send a corrective action plan even in a case in which it decides not to make a formal finding of abuse. 10 No public statistics of compliance with corrective action plans are maintained by the department.
Unfortunately, as it works in reality, there is little in the investigatory process to reassure the children DSS is charged with defending, but much to reassure abusers. There is, as well, little opportunity for outside monitoring of DSS.
In March 1992, in the Hale Avenue (Brooklyn) juvenile detention facility operated by the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), 15 year-old George Mulero was allegedly punched and "karate chopped" by his DJJ supervisor, Francisco Mendozo. 11 Another young detainee, Andy Oliveri, was reportedly hit by Mendozo as well that same day. An incident report was filed with the Central Register.
The certainty of swift and accurate DSS abuse investigations should be a major deterrent to juvenile workers like Francisco Mendozo. Yet, as this case demonstrates, Mendozo had little reason to fear being held accountable by DSS.
Most importantly, the victims themselves are not likely to step forward to complain or to insist on a thorough DSS investigation. George Mulero did not even tell his mother about being hit until she received a DSS form letter informing her of an investigation into the alleged incident. Like many incarcerated kids, George is from a very tough neighborhood. In the South Bronx, violence is taken in stride and smart kids learn not to admit being hurt. He was already known as a delinquent, and he probably assumed no one would care about his complaints. It was fairly common knowledge at the facility that Mendozo had a hair-trigger temper and would punch children with impunity.
In a letter dated August 4, 1992, Mrs. Robles was informed that the case was declared unfounded. Mrs. Robles told us that she assumed the Department's best efforts to investigate the incident. Had George's mother suspected a superficial DSS investigation or an incorrect investigative finding, there would be no record for her to trace anyway. Statute provides that the Department expunge all information in unfounded cases, even the alleged abuser's name. By the time she received the letter telling her of the unfounded determination, the entire record of the case was gone. The DSS letter to George's mother was explicit to this point:
In accordance with the law, all information that in anyway would identify persons named in the report, including the child(ren), has been expunged (destroyed) from the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register. Additionally, notice of the unfounding had been sent to the director of the residential facility and the director has been required to destroy all information relating to the report. 12
And even if Mrs. Robles had wanted to pursue some sort of legal action to ensure that justice was done, she was hampered by her inability to speak English and her inability to afford an attorney.
For workers at the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice, DSS investigations conducted by the MRO were not much of a threat in general. DSS investigated 19 abuse allegations for minimum-security DJJ group homes in 1991 and 1992. Not one letter was confirmed. 13
This record mirrored the MRO's record for all its investigations. Of the 335 investigations completed by the DSS regional office in New York City in 1992, only 14 resulted in the allegations being substantiated, about 4%.
One year after the alleged abuse of Mulero and Oliveri, Mendozo was again under suspicion. On March 21, 1993, in front of a group of juvenile inmates and fellow supervisors, Mendozo lunged at 110 lb., 14-year-old Laquaye Hamilton. According to numerous accounts made to us, Mendozo drove his forearm into the boy's face with such force that Mendozo fell on him and had to be pulled away by another DJJ supervisor. Laquaye bled from his nose and mouth and was momentarily disoriented.
True to form, however, the boy did not complain even to his mother who visited him regularly. Nonetheless, news of the incident was leaked to outsiders by Mendozo's co-workers, who had become increasingly disturbed by his behavior. Our office learned of the abuse and publicized it. The Brooklyn District Attorney took an interest. On June 15, Laquaye's mother received a form letter from DSS stating that maltreatment of her son may have occurred. On July 15, Mendozo was formally charged with assault by the D.A.
The danger in institutional abuse is that each [of the] allegations may mean that other children in the institution or group home are being abused simultaneously, not just the one, two, or three children in a private or foster home. Absent familial bonds, institutionalized children are especially vulnerable to abuse or neglect. As the above-described case makes clear, the Department may be the only defense these children have.
Although thorough DSS investigations and accurate investigative findings are critical to protect these children, these exists no systematic oversight of DSS abuse investigations from inside DSS or from without. If the department does not monitor the quality of its work, no one else will or can.
No provision exists within the Register itself for double-checking the veracity and thoroughness and institutional-abuse investigations. In the SCR, much attention is paid to mechanical aspects of the system, such as staffing the hotline, tracking the distribution of allegations to the local investigative agencies, inputting the investigative findings, expunging unfounded allegations, and screening names of child care workers, teachers, etc., for names of previously identified child abusers. Very little attention is paid to the quality of the investigations themselves. The SCR receives only the two-page Form 2223 to close the case, listing only a brief description, of the abuse determination. Ironically, DSS regional offices are required to perform spot checks and case reviews of county CPS investigations. 14 For their own investigations, however, no such mechanism is in place.
Regional offices therefore have virtual carte blanche to conduct investigations as they wish and then eliminate all records of unfounded cases, along with any evidence of their indolence or incompetence.
Though the regional offices are supposed to refer potential criminal abuse to the appropriate District Attorney their diligence in referring these cases is highly questionable. Our office uncovered a statutory rape case in which a DJJ supervisor had sex with a 15 year-old in his care in late August 1992. DSS admitted to use that it had lost the case file until we had brought it to the Department's attention. By the time the case was finally referred to the Bronx District Attorney, at the insistence of our office, the trail of evidence was cold and little could be done to prosecute the offender. The Bronx District Attorney's office told us that not only had DSS never referred a case to them before, they weren't even aware that DSS did this kind of work. DSS, typically, concluded its own stale investigation by finding the report the report "unfounded". The supervisor in question continues to work at the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice.
Without any oversight, there is little incentive for DSS to judge cases founded, and much to find them unfounded. The alleged victims or their families are unlikely to complain, no matter how lenient the Department's investigations become. Conversely, DSS have little incentive to incur the wrath of agencies which operated group homes or other institutions and wish at all costs to avoid having allegations confirmed. In any event, it is unlikely that an institution would complain if DSS investigations became too lenient.
The DSS 1990 internal evaluation reported that the number of investigations confirming abuse allegations has shown a dramatic decline. Upstate regional office founded rates had fallen from 45% in 1987 to 23% in 1989. The MRO founded rate had plunged from 22% to 3% during the same period. 15
Since then, founded rates have sunk even further. In 1992, the upstate founded rate had fallen to 13% while the MRO rate had stayed about the same at 4%. 16 The upstate rate, an amalgam of four offices, masks some startling figures. For instance, the Rochester Regional office confirmed only one of the 38 allegations it investigated in 1992, a 2% rate. These Department-wide figures are perhaps the closest proof of the Department's unwillingness to play its statutorily assigned role of protecting institutionalized children.
There is no optimal founded rate. A certain number of reports may be false. For allegations involving children in private homes, divorce-related custody battles are said to generate false reports. This is not likely for institutionalized children who have often been abandoned.
Beyond a small number of false reports, some allegations will simply be impossible to substantiate. Common sense, however, says these two reasons for finding a case unfounded cannot explain such a wild preponderance of unfounded cases -- 37 out of 38 last year in the Rochester regional office; and 319 out of 355 in the MRO.
In general, the DSS 1990 evaluation documented the poor quality of DSS investigations. Based upon a review of 40 case files, the 1990 report listed numerous deficiencies in the investigations:
The report found few problems with investigations which confirmed allegations of suspected abuse. Significantly, however, problems were found with investigations which concluded that allegations were unfounded.
By raising concern about the quality of investigations that came up empty handed, the report suggested that too many allegations were being judged as unfounded when in fact they were probably true. Child abuse was being ignored.
The DSS 1990 report proposed four explanations for the sharply lower founded rate in the Metropolitan Regional Office, as compared to the upstate regional offices. 17
The DSS report found that the first three rationales (high investigator caseloads, lack of investigator experience, and findings reversed on appeal) did not statistically explain the low founded rate. These conditions were also present in upstate offices, which had higher findings rates.
On the issue of whether the MRO was using unduly high standards of proof in determining abuse, the 1990 report postulated that
"...workers might be requiring a preponderance of evidence rather than some credible evidence as grounds for indication." 18If investigators were requiring a courtroom-level standard of proof -- one far higher than the statute envisioned -- they would only be able to confirm a limited number of cases.
In any event, on this point the 1990 report was stymied:
Because worker notes were not available in the majority of unfounded reports it could not be determined which standard was being used. 19
Since the 1990 report, founded rates have deteriorated further upstate and have remained as bad in the MRO. Either DSS has not cared enough to make any effort to improve the accuracy of its investigate findings in the intervening three years, or whatever ameliorative steps DSS has taken have filed.
It remains possible that the Department is increasingly substituting "corrective actions plans" for formal findings of child abuse on the theory that working cooperatively with an agency or group home is more productive than citing them.
Although plausible at first glance, this policy has natural flaws:
Since the number of corrective action plans issued by DSS is not available, we have been unable to determine whether DSS is using such a policy.
Documents in a legal suit involving a little girl named Shirleen shed a great deal of light on the standards currently used by DSS to substantiate abuse allegations. 20 The documents from this case show the absurd lengths which DSS investigators will go to avoid calling an allegation "founded."
The facts are as follows: the State Central Register first received a report of abuse of the seven-and-a-half-year-old Shirleen in February 1992. Shirleen was alleged to have been abused by her mother's boyfriend. The case was handed to the NYC Human Resources Administration for investigation, and Shirleen was admitted for psychiatric testing to St. Joseph's Children's Services Agency.
n June 1992, Shirleen's mother said that Shirleen had alluded to sexual activity at St. Joseph's itself. An attorney acting on the mother's behalf called the State Central Register to report the abuse, and the case was referred to the MRO for investigation. Shirleen's mother also initiated legal action to retrieve her daughter.
The crucial documents in this tragic story are the investigative summary Form 2223 (completed by the MRO investigator) and 70-page sworn interrogatory of the DSS investigator conducted by the mother's attorney. 21 In the deposition, the MRO investigator told what she learned about the case upon interviewing the handful of male children at the psychiatric facility:
The deposition becomes gruesome with the multiple sexual contacts the boys had with young children.
The deposition clearly states that on several occasions the boys took Shirleen out of the facility to an abandoned warehouse nearby to sodomize her.
The investigator also stated that a St. Joseph's staff member had admitted engaging in sexually provocative behavior with Shirleen (pulling her pants down, sitting her on his lap, etc.). The investigator further stated that St. Joseph's staff suspected Shirleen was being abused:
The DSS investigator admitted that she had a copy of a New York City Child Welfare Administration report stating that the St. Joseph's staff was aware of the sexual activity. The investigator further acknowledged that St. Joseph's staff had sometimes failed to log these incidents as they are required to do.
In short, the investigator had credible evidence to suspect that Shirleen was being neglected by St. Joseph's staff and was being abused because of that neglect. And, had the investigator requested the relevant medical information -- something she failed to do -- the fact that Shirleen had been raped since she arrived at St. Joseph's would have been further confirmed. An examination revealed the little girl's vaginal scarring and anal warts.
One week after this deposition, on January 21m 1993, the MRO investigator ruled the allegations "unfounded." Ordinarily, after this finding, all case records would have been expunged, and the investigator's rather incredible conclusion would have been beyond questioning. However, thanks to Shirleen's mother's court action to retrieve her daughter, the Form 2223 was released. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the Department's work.
In the Form 2223, the investigator, in her own handwriting, directly contradicts facts she had sworn to in the deposition only days before. She states that she found
She concludes, "We find no credible evidence to substantiate allegations of sexual abuse."
Though statute requires investigations to be completed within 60 days, the investigation into the abuse and neglect was not completed for 7 months; the investigator admits that she did not interview Shirleen until two months after the allegations were reported to the Register (page 64).
Shirleen's case should be required reading for anyone interested in whether DSS is committed to protecting children. For instance, the DSS investigator was asked about her qualifications:
The mention of training seemed to baffle her. In fact, DSS has a training program for its investigators. We can only assume this investigator either never received the instruction, forgot she had received it, or didn't recognize it as training.
Overall, the list of errors and omissions made by this investigator either in [the] Shirleen's case would fill a book. Yet the Departmental administrators told us in a telephone interview that the investigator's work had met DSS standards.
If these were the same standards used in all DSS investigations, the Department's woefully low founded rates are no surprise. For the Shirleen's of this state, those standards are cruelly inadequate.
Especially telling in the DSS 1990 report's casefile review is the fact that it criticizes almost every aspect of the investigative process. The report noted, for example:
[I]nvestigations focused almost exclusively on the degree of injury sustained by the child at the expense of evaluating whether there was imminent injury to the child...[I]ssues raised in the original oral reports [made to the Central Register] were not addressed in the determination narrative (e.g., red marks on neck; staff failure to to report runaways)...[I]nadequate documentation to support decisions...no [DSS} worker notes, either original handwritten or formal typed, were found in most records, especially, especially those in the MRO. 22
In addition, the report found that "investigators were focusing on specific incidents at the expense of examining global issues such as appropriateness of an compliance with institutional policies and procedures...." 23 Significantly, the report stated these deficiencies were discussed with the regional offices and that the regional offices agreed with the criticisms.
The report suggested more supervision of investigators, and as its primary recommendation, on-going, systematic Central Office reviews of investigative case files. It called this internal review mechanism, IAB [Institutional Abuse] Quality Assurance."
The evaluators called on the Central Office to greatly increase its supervision of the regional offices. The regional offices' reaction to this proposed increased workload was clearly communicated in their June 6, 1990 response to the draft 1990 report:
We continue to be enthusiastic about a Quality Assurance Review Unit. However, absent additional staffing resources, this idea is unrealistic. As previously mentioned, we hope to secure one additional Central Office staff position; while this will increase our capacity to do limited quality, it falls short of the intent of your recommendation. 24
The final report recommended casefile monitoring despite the lack of regional office support for it. And to help ensure that the Central Office would comply with its recommendation, the report called on that office to develop a management plans and implementation timetable for the Quality Assurance program.
However DSS admits that no such management plan and timetable was ever developed. 25 No systematic Central Office oversight was ever conducted. And there is no record of how many abuse investigations the regional offices have botched since the 1990 report's warnings were ignored.
The Department's failure to implement the Quality Assurance recommendation is not surprising in light of its refusal to adopt a monitoring tool on a previous occasion. In 1989 the Department drafted, but never adopted, the Institutional Abuse Case Reading Protocol, 26 which appears to closely resemble the evaluation the evaluation form envisioned by the 1990 report. The Protocol might serve as both a management tool and a monitoring instrument. Since it remains in draft, it does neither.
The 1990 report's casefile review found numerous deficiencies in the way cases were investigated and tracked. The report notes:
Regional Offices were not consistent in record organization or content. In one regional office all draft and handwritten worker notes were bring retained, while in another no original worker notes were found and typed material appeared to have been too concisely summarized. 27
The 1990 report noted, "In all offices, the [investigative] logs were found to be inadequately maintained. 28 DSS was strongly urged to created standardized investigative procedures.
Even without the urging of the 1990 report, a handbook would seem to be the most sensible way for DSS to standardize those procedures. The Department's offices are hundreds of miles from one another. Day-to-day guidance from the Albany headquarters is therefore impossible, even if the Central Office were inclined to take a more active role in the work of regional offices. Furthermore, little institutional memory is going to accrue within the small regional staffs. To maintain continuity and consistency among DSS staff state-wife, written policies and procedures would seem mandatory.
A handbook was in fact drafted in 1986. 29 Titled Institutional Abuse Project, Manual for Conducting Child Abuse Investigation in Residential Child Care, the roughly 50-page manual offers a step-by-step explanation of the entire investigative process, including:
The use and status of the Manual between 1986 and the 1990 DSS internal evaluation is unclear; apparently, it was unofficially disseminated to some of the regional offices.
In spite of the self-evident need for the handbook, in spite of the findings of the 1990 report, and in spite of the cases of investigative incompetence brought to the Department's attention by this office and by others, DSS never formally adopted or distributed the Manual, or another such handbook.
When we asked the Department why it was not using the Manual, it again demonstrated the indifferent attitude that characterizes its child abuse investigatory program. In the Department's own words:
The [Manual] is largely out-of-date, and while having some value as a reference guide, would require substantial revision to accurately reflect current law, regulation, and practice. 30
In other words, it would be too much trouble to update it.
An investigator looking for guidance is therefore offered nothing except an unofficial, out-of-date "reference guide" -- and it's not clear that even this poor tool is readily available.
The speed -- or lack of speed -- with which the Department conducts its investigations demonstrates again how half-heartedly it protects institutionalized children. As noted earlier, the original statute governing DSS investigations required the completion of investigations in 90 days from the time the allegation is made. Subsequent legislative revisions required that all investigations commenced after October 30, 1993 be completed in 60 days.
In the case of seven-year-old Shirleen described above, a report of child abuse was received by the Metropolitan Regional Office investigator on June 23, 1992. 31 The investigation was not completed until January 21, 1993, roughly 210 days later.
In a recent letter to us, DSS admitted that only 55% of its 1992 Metropolitan Regional Office investigations met their mandated completion deadlines (i.e., 90 days, before October 1, 1992; and 60 days, after October 1, 1992). The MRO had met the deadline in 80% of its investigations in 1990, and in 87.5% of its investigations in 1991.
The Department said in its defense that the MRO had had a particularly difficult year, due to extensive sick and family leave. The Department noted, "For most of 1992, the MRO had between four and five staff to do the work designed to be performed by eleven staff."
DSS did not say why staff from elsewhere in the state were not assigned to its New York regional office (which handles at least 60% of all its investigations statewide) on an interim basis. Instead, the Department asserted that since fall 1992, the MRO has had ten investigators on the job. Nevertheless, in a subsequent letter to us, DSS admitted that for the first half of 1992, 55% of its MRO investigations were still out of compliance with the law -- the same percentage as for 1992. 32 We are aware of no DSS initiative to correct this problem.
Any recommendations for the management or conduct of DSS abuse investigations have to be made in light of the Department's failure to implement previous recommendations. The Department has announced yet another review of its investigatory responsibilities, but clearly it cannot be trusted to implement the changes suggested by its own reviews.
We recommend that an independent, inter-agency committee, appointed by the Governor, oversee the following corrective actions: