Protect N.Y.’s children

Albany Times Union


The Legislature failed to tackle problems in New York’s Family Courts, despite an obvious need for reform.


Lawmakers once more have left the state’s most vulnerable children in harm’s way.

Family Courts in New York are in desperate need of reform, as the deaths of children throughout the state have made agonizingly clear.

But in the face of such an obvious and well-documented need, the state Legislature this year has done … pretty much nothing at all. That’s a dereliction of governmental responsibility.

Yes, these are complicated issues. Yes, reform must be thoughtful and well-considered.

But one needs only to read the series of articles by Times Union investigative reporter Chris Bragg to understand why lawmakers should be demonstrating an urgency they seem to lack. The reports document how children whose families were already in the courts or the child protective system have died at the hands of a parent or guardian even after concerns were raised about abuse or mental instability.

Several bills introduced this session would have begun to address the shortcomings, including “Kyra’s Law,” introduced by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, D-Queens.

The bill was named after a Long Island girl, just two years old, killed by her father. Her mother had warned that the man was unstable and suicidal, but he was nonetheless allowed unsupervised visitation. In 2016, he shot the child as she slept, set the house on fire and killed himself.

As we’ve previously noted, Mr. Hevesi’s law would require courts to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the veracity of allegations of child abuse or domestic violence; among other changes, it would mandate the training needed to help courts vet such allegations.

Those would be clear steps forward. But the Legislature failed to pass that bill, just as it failed to pass a proposed law implementing new standards and training requirements for so-called forensic evaluators, the mental health professionals who play a crucial role in assessing bitter child custody disputes.

That leaves reform in the hands of a 20-member commission created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and charged with issuing recommendations on the evaluators, whose work couldn’t be more important. The governor says the commission will “improve the quality of the forensic custody evaluation process, help ensure equal access to justice for survivors of domestic violence, and improve the fairness and transparency of the Family Court system.”

Last week, Mr. Cuomo appointed members to the commission announced in January, and recommendations are expected by the fall. That’s progress — but hardly enough. Not when the lives of vulnerable children are at stake. Not when the failings of the system are so obvious.

Protecting children. What state responsibility could be more important? What could be a more pressing legislative priority?

And yet, New York’s Legislature failed to take action. If there was ever a topic worthy of a special session, it is this one.

By Paul Wager