The state agency charged with monitoring child abuse investigations has failed to file required annual reports for the past five years about child abuse-related deaths.
The delay comes as the number of child abuse-related deaths statewide has increased, according to state records. That has prompted state legislators and child advocates to push for release of the reports, which track the number of deaths and include policy recommendations.
New York's Office of Children and Family Services is required under state Social Services Law to submit reports to the governor and State Legislature each year detailing the number of abuse-related fatalities and "appropriate findings and recommendations."
The last report the office issued covered deaths in 2008 and 2009, agency records show.
Assemb. Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton), chairwoman of the Committee on Children, called the reports key to shaping policy. She said she recently became aware of the delay and planned to press OCFS for an update.
"These reports contain critically important information that helps us develop policies to address primary prevention of child fatalities," Lupardo said in an interview. "It also helps us direct resources and funding. In addition, we look at geographic trends. . . . This is a very important document."
On May 14, after inquiries from Newsday about the missing reports, state Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the Senate Children and Families Committee, wrote to acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole, requesting reports for 2010 through 2014 and "an explanation for the lapse," within 30 days.
OCFS spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said reports for 2010-14 have not been issued because the agency "recently moved to a new, customized data collection and technology platform for tracking and reporting child fatalities."
She said OCFS "is prepared to release within 90 days an updated report on child fatalities" covering deaths in that period.
Child abuse-related deaths involve children who were under some level of watch from child protective agencies, according to OCFS. They include children whose guardians were reported to the state's child abuse hotline for suspicion of abuse.
The agency's most recent report indicated that the number of child abuse-related deaths was increasing.
In 2005, there were 158 child abuse-related deaths; in 2009, there were 223.
Unofficial numbers provided to Newsday by state lawmakers show that in 2010, 265 children died statewide in child abuse-related cases. In 2012, there were 276 such cases.
From 2007 through 2009, OCFS identified 50 abuse-related deaths in Suffolk and 20 in Nassau out of 791 child abuse-related fatalities during the period statewide.
Long Island has had several high-profile cases since then that aren't reflected in available state figures.
In November, Jonathan Thompson, 34, of Amityville, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for punching 4-year-old Adonis Reed to death in January 2013 when the boy complained he was sick. Thompson was the boyfriend of Adonis' godmother, who was acting as his caretaker.
Also, State Police are continuing to investigate the death of 17-month-old Justin Kowalczik. His body was found buried in the backyard of his family's Farmingdale home in October 2012, after a Suffolk Child Protective Services worker had questioned the boy's mother and stepfather about the child's whereabouts during a check on his other siblings.
The family had lived in Orange County before moving to Long Island. Authorities said it was unclear what led to the boy's death, but they said he had been buried for two years before his body was discovered.
Anthony Zenkus, director of education for Safe Center LI, a Bethpage nonprofit that provides counseling to domestic violence, rape and child abuse victims, said child advocates rely on the annual state reports to "structure our prevention messages when we are out there educating the public."
For instance, "if there was a rise in deaths because of co-sleeping, we would know to emphasize that information when talking to parents," Zenkus said. He was referring to parents who share beds with infants, but who sometimes roll over and suffocate the tots.
"If the lives of our children are truly a priority, we need to get these reports done," Zenkus said.In March, Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Watertown) filed a measure calling on the OCFS to conduct a study of deaths of children who had been under the watch of child protective services before their deaths.
Ritchie said when she filed the bill she was unaware that OCFS was already required to submit such findings to lawmakers each year, but proposed her measure in response to the growing number of deaths. The measure was approved by the Senate's Children and Families Committee May 12, but does not yet have an Assembly sponsor.
"Each county may have different issues they're dealing with," Ritchie said in an interview. "Until a report or a study is put together, it's kind of hard to find solutions and determine where more resources need to be put in place."