The New York Statewide Central Register (SCR) of Abuse and Maltreatment maintains records of calls, allegations, and results of investigations regarding suspected child abuse and maltreatment. Although these records are not public, many employers and agencies are legally obligated to check the database before hiring applicants and accepting volunteers. Having an “indicated” report on file severely decreases the chances for an applicant to gain employment, as well as detrimentally affects one’s ability to secure housing and apply for government benefits.

Through a recent training conducted by Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), Proskauer now has the opportunity to file motions to vacate findings of neglect in family court, where called for under the law.  In doing so, you can make a fundamental difference in the lives of poor families.

This partnership with BDS is about ensuring equal access to justice. During the initial investigation into alleged neglect, there is no requirement or expectation that an attorney will be present to confirm that the client’s rights are being protected and to push back on any indicated findings. Although a complaint is normally in relation to a specific allegation, the findings can include anything discovered in the household as long as there is “some credible evidence.” This is, of course, a low bar that allows for broad discretion. Investigations like these place parents’ conduct and living situations under increased scrutiny and often subject them to state intervention without any legal counsel. These investigations disproportionately target low-income families and racial minorities – marginalized groups who are also disproportionately brought into family court when what they most need are social services, not court intervention.

Significantly, where the findings are “resolved” and the judge renders a suspended judgment or even outright dismisses the proceedings, the finding of neglect remains on the individual’s record until the individual affirmatively requests to vacate it.  The process of clearing one’s record involves a number of legal and logistical hoops that families have to jump through to move on with their lives, and many of them cannot do it without counsel.  Access to counsel makes a big difference in obtaining adequate housing and job opportunities, and in helping these families move on with their lives. Taking on these cases as part of our pro bono program not only helps ensure equitable access to benefits, housing, and employment, but more fundamentally helps level the legal playing field for all New Yorkers.