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Protect kids, respect parents: Review and update the process for registering people accused of endangering children

2019-08-25

The New York State central register, holding hundreds of thousands of names of people reported for mistreating children, is a well-intended list, meant to help fulfill one of New York’s highest responsibilities: keeping all its children safe. (hoozone/Getty Images)

The New York State central register, holding hundreds of thousands of names of people reported for mistreating children, is a well-intended list, meant to help fulfill one of New York’s highest responsibilities: keeping all its children safe.

But it is too easy to get onto, and too difficult to get off of, even when mistreatment allegations prove unfounded.

Nearly 50,000 people are added to the database each year. They generally land there not after formal civil or criminal adjudication but after a social worker and supervisor determine there’s some “credible evidence” abuse or neglect actually happened.

That’s a threshold lower than the one for proving charges in a family, much less criminal, court.

Worse, even parents who clean up their acts, get better jobs, take parenting classes or go to drug rehab can stay on the registry for years. There’s no exit allowed until one’s youngest child turns 28.

That can result in lost job opportunities; vetting against the list is legally required in many professions, from child care to home health aides.

Parents accused not of physical abuse but neglect — which can include infractions like keeping of an unsanitary home or using drugs — make up more than two-thirds of the reports. These are not problems to take lightly, but the punishment outweighs the crime.

A bill passed by both houses of the state Legislature makes modest, sensible changes to the system. It allows some people listed to have their records conditionally sealed after eight years, provided they were not accused of physical or sexual abuse, and barring any subsequent credible reports of maltreatment.

Some parents do evil to children. Many others make mistakes.

Those deserve a better chance to prove they can change. Gov. Cuomo should sign the bill.