You come home from a long day at work and there is a card in your door with a note asking you to call a caseworker at your local department of social services, or you hear an unexpected knock at your door and a child protective services worker introduces herself….
This is how most people are informed that a state central register report has been made against them and a child protective services investigation has begun.
During that initial meeting with the caseworker, the subject of the report will be told the nature of the report and the substance of the narrative the state central register received. These are the “allegations” of neglect or abuse and can range from lack of supervision, lack of food, failure to go to school, on up to serious allegations of physical or sexual abuse.
The caseworker will ask to talk to you and the children and to look around your home to check for any immediate safety issues. You are cooperative, the worker is friendly and doesn’t express any concern to you or tells you that she doesn’t think this will “go anywhere.” She just has to conduct her investigation and make sure. She tells you she has 60 days to complete her investigation and you will be notified of the results by mail.
A few weeks or months go by and you receive a letter in the mail stated that the report of child abuse or maltreatment was “indicated” against you as the subject of the report.
What does this mean?
It means that the caseworker investigating your case found “some credible evidence” that the allegations in the report were true.
What is “some credible evidence?” It is the bare minimum of evidence worthy of belief to support the allegations against you. It is similar to “probable cause” in a criminal proceeding.
Now that I have an “indicated report” against me, what does that mean? An indicated report will be kept on file at the State Central Registry until the youngest child named in the report turns 28 years old. Child care employees, adoption or foster care agencies and other agencies or employers who work with vulnerable populations may be notified of the existence of the report against you if you are employed in or are seeking employment in, seeking to become a foster parent or adopt.
What can I do about an “indicated report?
You have a right to appeal the decision of the caseworker to indicate the report against you. You have 90 days from the date you received your notification letter to file for an “administrative appeal.”
You do this by writing the State Central Register:
New York State Department of Social Services
State Central Register
PO Box 4480
Albany, NY 12204-0480
In your letter, include the Case ID, the Intake Stage ID and the Date of Intake found at the top of your indication letter. Simply ask the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services to review the report and amend it to unfounded. You do not need to include any statement in defense or additional evidence at this point but you may do so if you desire. You should also ask for a copy of everything contained in the investigation file.
This will start the administrative review process where a specialized team looks at your report and the investigation and makes a determination if there is a preponderance of the evidence to retain the report as indicated. If they retain the report as indicated they will automatically send it to the “Bureau of Administrative Appeals,” where a hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge who will hear your case similar to a court proceeding.
During this hearing, the local department will have to introduce witnesses and put in evidence to support the indication of the report and you will have an opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence and even testify on your own behalf as to why the report should be changed to unfounded. You can put in evidence that directly contradicts the facts that the caseworker found true. You can also put in evidence that shows that even if the facts of the report were true and correct, the basis for the indication no longer exists.
After the hearing, the administrative law judge will make recommended findings of fact and a recommendation that the report be retained as indicated or changed to unfounded and legally sealed and the Commissioner will issue a decision upholding the recommendations.
What is a “preponderance of the evidence?”
This is the standard in most civil law suits such as medical malpractice, car accidents, etc. This standard is met when there is proof presented that the allegations are more likely true than not true, or just greater than 50 percent more likely true than not true. Sometimes it is called more probable than not. This requires the administrative law judge to weigh any conflicting evidence and the credibility of witnesses in reaching her decision.
Because an indicated report can have long-ranging implications for a person named in the report, you should always request an administrative review as soon as possible. Because the law is complicated and there are many nuances involved, it is advisable to consider hiring an attorney experienced in this area of law.