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NYC Administration for Children's Services: The City's child welfare agency, dedicated to protecting children and strengthening families

History: Elisa's Law

On November 22, 1995, a six-year-old child was murdered by her mother. This child, Elisa Izquierdo, and her family had been through the City's myriad child protective, medical, mental health, educational, and legal services - but with no lasting effect. Following this tragic death, Mayor Giuliani called for a review of the Child Welfare Administration, the City's child welfare agency at the time, and asked for an explanation of how this death could have occurred. Soon after, the Mayor created ACS, the first free-standing agency in the City's history devoted only to child welfare services and reporting directly to him.

From Elisa's death came another major change in New York child welfare: Elisa's Law (New York Social Services Law Section 422-a) was enacted February 12, 1996. The Law enhances accountability and public understanding of child protective services by lifting the veil of confidentiality which previously precluded State and local officials from disclosing information about child welfare cases. Today, Elisa's Law acts as an effective tool for reform by holding the agency and the child welfare system publicly accountable for its work.

As a result of this legislation, laws pertaining to the disclosure of information and expungement of unfounded reports of child abuse and neglect were modified. If certain criteria are met, case information can be made public at the discretion of the local commissioner.

The major provisions of Elisa's Law:
(New York Social Services Law Section 422-a)
  • Disclosure of Information: The Law permits disclosure of child protective services information - when it is not contrary to the best interest of the child - in four limited circumstances in which the public has a legitimate interest in the case: 1) the subject of the report has been charged with a crime relating to the report, 2) the case has been made public by law enforcement officials, a district attorney, a state or local investigative agency, or by a judge, 3) the case has been made public by the subject of the report, or 4) the child has died.

  • The Law requires retention and legal sealing of unfounded reports of abuse and neglect until ten years after the 18th birthday of the youngest child named in the report.

  • The sealed records are available only in the context of a subsequent child protective services investigation.

  • The Law clarifies how information should be shared by all involved parties (child protective services, schools, health care providers, preventive services providers, etc.) for the purpose of monitoring the family's services and circumstances.

  • The State is authorized to respond to child-specific requests for a fatality report.
  • The Commissioner is entitled to good faith immunity defense in any proceeding arising as a result of disclosure.

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