State Central Registry (SCR)
When people talk about calling “the hotline” or “calling in a case,” they mean calling the State Central Registry (SCR), which is run by the NY State Office of Family and Children’s Services (OCFS). The SCR answers calls reporting neglect or abuse, and if a caller can provide basic information about the family and describe a concern that meets the state definition of neglect (see below) or abuse, the SCR report will be “referred” to the local child welfare agency for investigation. In NYC, that’s ACS (the Administration for Children’s Services).
Indicated Case / Investigation
In an investigation, there is a “finding” at the end — a determination by the investigator — that a parent did or didn’t neglect or abuse their child. A case is “indicated” or “not indicated.” Another way of saying this is that abuse or neglect is “substantiated” or “not substantiated.” All of these terms mean that a ACS investigator believed there was a “preponderance of evidence” that a parent neglected or abused their child — or that there wasn’t. If an investigation is indicated, that doesn’t mean a parent will lose their child or even have to do services. It does mean that a parent will be registered with the state as having an indicated neglect or abuse case, which can affect employment, such as working with children or elderly people, or working in schools or daycares.
Rates of SCR Calls and Investigations
Most public child welfare data shows only the number of investigations in a community district (CD). The charts below use zip code data and present rates of hotline calls in addition to numbers. Looking at the rate of hotline calls per 1,000 children or households in a zip code allows us to accurately compare which zip codes are most impacted. For example, Hunts Point ranks 81st in the number of hotline calls because it’s a small neighborhood, but it ranks 4th citywide in its rate, which is 140 per 1,000 households with children (or 7 calls for every 50 families). That means that many families probably know a neighbor who was recently investigated. ACS’ presence is high.
ACS is legally required to respond to all SCR reports referred but it can respond with a full investigation or with a less intensive, intrusive response when cases appear to be low risk. That’s called by many names: “differential response,” “alternate response,” “FAR” in New York State and “CARES” in NYC.
With CARES, there is no traditional investigation, no court involvement and no determination/finding — no “indication.” Instead, child protective staff trained in the CARES approach call ahead to set up a meeting with the family. The meeting focuses on any needs the family may identify and families may be connected to resources or services, which are entirely voluntary. Families do not need to accept resources or services if they choose not to.
Mandated Reporters vs. Non-Mandated Reporters
Mandated reporters are people who are required to report suspected neglect or abuse to the SCR.
Mandated Reporters: Child Care Worker, Day Care Facility/Provider, Institutional Staff, Director, Attend Teacher, Guidance Counselor, Principal, School Personnel, Teacher, Court, District Attorney, Detective, Law Enforcement, Probation Officer, Police Officer, Physicians Asst., Dental Hygienist, EMS\EMT, Medical Examiner/Coroner, Medical Facility Staff, Nurse, Public Health, Physician, Mental Health Professional, Psychologist/Psychiatrist, Therapist, Dept of Social Services/ACS Worker, Social Worker, Substance Abuse Counselors, Christian Scientist Practitioner, Family Violence Shelter, Other State Agency. Staff in agencies contracted with ACS are mandated reporters, no matter their title.
Non-Mandated Reporters: Father, Mother, Parent, Anonymous, Foster Parents, Friend, Neighbor, Aunt/Uncle, Cousin, Daughter/Son, Other Family Member, Grandchild, Grandparent, Niece/Nephew, Sibling, Attorney, Community Agency, Concerned Citizen, Clergy, Guardian, Other Shelter, Parent Substitute, Unrelated Home Members, others not listed as mandated reporters.
All mandated reporters are required to give their name and contact information to the SCR. Non-mandated reporters can choose to give their name, which is kept confidential, or to make the report anonymously.
An allegation is the suspected neglect or abuse reported to the SCR. Allegations are grouped as follows: Physical Abuse – burn, fatality, fracture, choking, twisting, shaking, excessive corporal punishment, internal injuries, lacerations, bruises, welts, poisoning, noxious substances; Educational Neglect – educational neglect; Lack of Medical Care – lack of medical care; Inadequate Guardianship – inadequate guardianship; Other Neglect – inadequate food, clothing, shelter, lack of supervision, malnutrition, failure to thrive, swelling, dislocations, sprains; Psychological Abuse – isolation, emotional neglect; Sexual Abuse – sexual abuse; Substance Abuse – parental drug use, child drug use; Other – abandonment, inappropriate custodial conduct, labor trafficking, all else.
“Preponderance of Evidence”
The state child welfare agency, OCFS, described this legal term this way in an Administrative Directive that described SCR reform legislation that took effect Jan. 1, 2022.
SCR reform legislation changes the legal standard of evidence, or “proof,” required for CPS to indicate a report of alleged child abuse or maltreatment. Specifically, this new law raises the legal standard of proof that is required: from “some credible evidence” to “a fair preponderance of the evidence.”
Existing New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) regulations at 18 New York Code Rules and Regulations (18 NYCRR) section 434.10 define these terms as follows:
- “Some credible evidence” is evidence that is worthy and capable of being believed.
- “A fair preponderance of the evidence” is evidence that outweighs other evidence that is offered to oppose it.
In other words, under the “some credible evidence” standard, CPS only needs to find that “some” evidence that is “credible” exists to substantiate a specific allegation in a report of alleged child abuse or maltreatment that is under investigation. In contrast, to establish “a fair preponderance of the evidence,” CPS must weigh the information collected in its totality and determine whether the evidence collected that supports the allegation is stronger than the evidence gathered that does not.
How Does NY State Define Neglect?
For a full definition, read the laws summarized here:
- A maltreated child includes a child “defined as a neglected child by the family court act, or … who has had serious physical injury inflicted upon him or her by other than accidental means.” NYS Social Services Law § 412(2). New York State defines a neglected child as a child “whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of his parent or other person legally responsible for his care to exercise a minimum degree of care…” Family Court Act § 1012(f); NYS Social Services Law § 371(4-a)(i). “’Person legally responsible’ includes the child’s custodian, guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s care at the relevant time.” Family Court Act § 1012(g).
- In reports to the SCR, the reporter must have “reasonable cause to suspect that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is an abused or maltreated child or when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is an abused or maltreated child where the parent or other person legally responsible comes before them in their professional or official capacity and states from personal knowledge facts, conditions or circumstances which, if correct, would render the child an abused or maltreated child” (NYS SSL § 413(1)).
Both ACS and OCFS have phone numbers that mandated reporters can call to find out about services and resources in the community to refer families to instead of calling in a report.
- In NYC, it’s the ACS preventive technical assistance unit that receives the call: 212-676-7667
- OCFS has a line called HEARS that is described as a parent helpline, but parents should know that it is staffed by mandated reporters at OCFS
Parents in NYC can get free legal support when facing an investigation. Here is information on your rights and support during an investigation: https://yourfamilyyourrights.org/