Press Releases

Skip to Content

Accessible Navigation and Information

Use the following links to quickly navigate around the page. The number for each is the shortcut key.

You are on this page: Press Releases

For immediate release: January 11, 2022
Contact: press@ocfs.ny.gov
Email: press@ocfs.ny.gov
Phone: 5184023130

NEW YORK BLUE-RIBBON COMMISSION ON FORENSIC CUSTODY EVALUATIONS CONCLUDES WORK AND ISSUES REPORT

 The Commission Recommends Major Reforms to Custody Evaluation Process 

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) today announced that the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Forensic Custody Evaluations has concluded its work and issued a report to the Governor. Co-chaired by Judge Sherry Klein Heitler (Ret.), former chief of policy and planning for the New York State Unified Court System and Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Commissioner Sheila J. Poole of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and OPDV Executive Director Kelli Owens, the commission was charged with developing recommendations to the Governor regarding if and/or how forensic custody evaluations should be used in the New York State court system. 
 
Forensic evaluations are used in the courts for some cases involving child custody and visitation. Under the current system, there is no consistent statewide approach regarding who may act as a forensic evaluator or how the evaluations should be completed. The Blue-Ribbon Commission has developed several robust recommendations that address the need to reconsider the role of the evaluations and the situations in which they are ordered. 
 
Blue-Ribbon Commission members include former judges, academics, attorneys practicing family and matrimonial law, children's rights experts, domestic violence advocates, psychologists and parents.
 
Commission members agree that forensic evaluations are ordered too frequently, and judges may place undue reliance upon them. The members could not, however, reach uniform consensus on whether forensic custody evaluations should continue to exist within the court system. The report explores that question and possible paths for change, including, but not limited to, improved training, ethics and accountability for evaluators and the introduction of greater equity into the process.
 
The Governor will collaborate with the legislature and the courts in the coming year to address the important issues raised in the report and recognizes the group for its service to the state.
 
New York State Office of Children and Family Services OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole said, "Child custody cases decide one of the most important factors in children’s lives – who will be the adult responsible to meet their needs. It was an honor to co-chair this commission whose members devoted countless hours of their time to discuss and deliberate the myriad issues of concern regarding the current process for conducting forensic custody evaluations in New York State. The two public meetings attended by dozens of participants allowed the commission to consider additional input as it formed final recommendations to the Governor. OCFS looks forward to being a partner in supporting Governor Hochul’s administration as we work collectively to implement needed reform.”
 
New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelli Owens said, “The intersection between domestic violence and child abuse is often overlooked and survivors’ fears for their children’s safety often ignored. Forensic evaluators have the power to make life-altering decisions for survivors and their children. If these decisions are not informed by an understanding of domestic and sexual violence, the consequences can be deadly. The commission’s recommendations will continue New York States’ systems transformation to be even more survivor-centered, trauma-informed and culturally responsive. We thank the commission members for their work and Governor Hochul for her steadfast leadership to implement changes that will drastically improve the lives of survivors and their families.”
 
Former Chief of Policy and Planning for the New York State Unified Court System and Justice of the New York State Supreme Court Judge Sherry Klein Heitler (Ret.) said, “Our children are our future. When they are caught in a custody battle it is imperative that everything be done to assist the judge in making a determination that will be in the best interest of the child for the present and the future. To that end, the members of the commission and staff worked very hard to present a report dealing with forensic custody evaluations to Governor Hochul that reflects different concepts, ideas and recommendations. It was truly an honor to serve as a co-chair of this commission, as I believe that reform is needed and that our governor will make the changes that will be extremely important for the children of our state.”