ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — An audit released on Tuesday by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) can take additional steps to protect children from harm.

Currently, according to the audit, the OCFS oversees the locally administered child welfare system that investigates reports of alleged child abuse and child fatalities.

The audit found that OCFS can improve by having the local departments of social services develop and submit a Program Improvement Plan (PIP) when the review of a child fatality investigation finds statutory or regulatory compliance failures and deficiencies in practice.

“The findings in this audit should be a sobering call to action to ensure New York’s vulnerable children are protected,” DiNapoli said. “New York’s Office of Children and Family Services consistently finds flaws in child abuse investigations that preceded a child’s death. It can do more to ensure that local social service providers (LDSS) throughout New York improve operations so they can better respond to abuse complaints and save children’s lives.”

Auditors found that the OCFS generally identifies deficiencies in child fatality investigations and in prior investigations relating to that child. They add that the PIP only applies on a case-by-case basis and fails to make recommendations to fix systemic problems that might be occurring statewide.

Auditors also say that although the identification of deficiencies after the fact may provide useful information and areas for improvement, ultimately the worst outcome has already occurred. They add that it is critical that any deficiencies are addressed proactively to help guard against child fatalities.

The audit also says that from 2018 to 2021, the OCFS received around 1,400 reports that involved allegations of fatal abuse or maltreatment of children. It added that the OCFS issued 2,752 citations to LDSS that indicated a problem with local investigation.

Citations, according to the audit, were given to nearly half, or 641, of all investigations into a child fatality.

The audit also reports that the greatest number of citations were issued in cases in:

  • The Bronx (317)
  • Manhattan (248)
  • Brooklyn (240)
  • Onondaga County (228)
  • Erie County (137)

According to the audit, these numbers found that nearly 72 percent of the problems OCFS found were related and suggest that investigative weaknesses existed prior to the child’s death.

To see how the OCFS addressed the problems it found, auditors examined 52 child fatality reviews. They found that OCFS identified defects in all 52 cases, and in 51 of them, the LDSS had created a PIP. They do add, however, that there was little consistency in how the PIPs addressed deficiencies and say that the OCFS could not easily monitor deficiencies or corrective action among LDSS, as well as the regional areas.

The audit recommended that the OCFS establish procedures that more accurately reflect the nature of calls that are to be non-reports, as well as reasons for such determinations. They also said to address deficiencies that are found in Program Quality Improvements and child fatality reviews across statewide LDSSs.

The OCFS responded to the audit’s recommendation, with officials agreeing with the findings and expressing appreciation for the OSC’s acknowledgment of the steps that the agency has taken to improve oversight and monitoring.