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N.Y. To Adjust Guidelines for Child-Abuse Register

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New York State officials announced last week they will adjust guidelines for releasing the names of suspected child abusers to comply with a federal court ruling that the state's current system is unfair.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled earlier this month that the state's central child-abuse register has an "unacceptably high risk of error'' and may violate the rights of some people who do not belong on the list.

Social-services agencies in the state have the authority to submit names to the register without any proof that abuse or neglect took place. Officals must only have "some credible evidence'' to support their claim, said Terrance McGrath, a spokesman for the state social-services department.

The register is used by schools and day-care centers, among other employers, that are required under state law to screen applicants who will be in contact with children.

Although the state will continue to use the tracking system, the social-services department has agreed to give suspected abusers the option of a hearing before releasing their names to prospective employers.

In a hearing, the state would have to prove the abuse allegations by "a fair preponderance of the evidence,'' a higher burden of proof than the one used to justify submitting names to the register.
Suspected abusers currently have the option of a hearing only after they have been denied a job.

The federal case involved a former teacher's aide from New York City, Anna Valmonte, who was accused in 1989 of slapping her daughter across the face.

After Ms. Valmonte's daughter mentioned the incident at school, administrators informed local child-protection workers, who claimed that the woman had used "excessive corporal punishment.''

System Could Be Cumbersome

Ms. Valmonte said she hit her child--who had recently been caught stealing--because other forms of discipline had not worked.

Ms. Valmonte argued that the state's refusal to remove her name from the list of 250,000 suspected abusers violated her right to seek employment in her chosen field, education.

The court agreed, ruling that it was unconstitutional to require that someone be fired or turned down for a job before being allowed to challenge the state's legal standard for turning over names.

But the new system for releasing information could be cumbersome, Mr. McGrath noted.

The social-services office handles more than 80,000 inquiries a year from employers checking job applicants' names against the list. Last year, the state found about 200 matches.

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