Albany passes  new package on child abuse

Locally inspired bill would give social workers access to homes

Staff Reporter

A Cortland case of child abuse helped spur approval in the state Legislature of a bill that allows Child Protective Services workers easier access to a child.
Under the bill, CPS can more easily obtain a Family Court order if caseworkers have been denied access to a home for a report of child abuse when they suspect the child’s health is in danger, said Duncan Davie, spokesman for state Sen. James Seward (R-Milford), who sponsored the bill.
The court can order that the guardian must let CPS workers see the child, outside the presence of the guardian, and CPS can determine a location, if it chooses, to view the child outside of the home.
“It’s going to help because under the law, CPS doesn’t have the authority to go to get a court order based on the kinds of circumstance we saw,” Davie said, referring to a recent case involving a child in Cortland County.
The bill was prompted by several cases of alleged neglect and abuse across the state, including the case of a 5-year-old boy found weighing only 15 pounds at a Union Street, Cortland, home. Police discovered the child, who has Down syndrome and had been drinking only baby formula for years, with almost no motor skills among piles of garbage and wearing soiled diapers.
The child’s mother, Judy A. Gratton, was arrested March 21 and charged with several felony and misdemeanor drug and endangerment charges.
The Senate passed the bill Monday and the Assembly passed it Thursday night, Davie said. The legislation will head to Gov. George Pataki for approval.
“If the governor signs the bill, it will be easier for CPS to go and get a court order when they suspect child abuse,” Davie said.
Under the current law, a CPS worker must have hard evidence of child abuse, and this bill relaxes the standard of probable cause, he said.
“The case in Cortland County really got the attention of the entire Legislature,” Davie said. “It’s going to protect vulnerable children.”
The child was found only after the Cortland City Police Department entered the house under warrant to retrieve marijuana and paraphernalia in the home after Gratton’s 11-year-old daughter brought a bag of marijuana to school, which provided evidence for a criminal search warrant.
The child’s father, Buddy Morgan of Syracuse, said he contacted the county Department of Social Services as early as January about the living conditions, and Gratton denied DSS access to her home and to her child. Morgan told his daughter to take the marijuana to school as a way to bring authorities into the house.
Under the new legislation, CPS workers would have been able to access the home even after she had refused to let them see her 5-year-old son.
The child was hospitalized for several weeks, and is now starting to gain motor skills.
“DSS will have clear guidance in the law,” Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said Friday. “This makes if very clear that the welfare of children is the main concern.”
Lifton, a co-sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly, said different counties have handled DSS access to children in different ways. The new law would allow consistent action, she said.
The legislation was among a package of bills passed Thursday and Friday designed to protect children from abuse. Other measures advocate earlier involvement of law enforcement and provide additional training for CPS workers.
“Any legislation that will help us get access to investigate child abuse is a good thing,” Cortland County DSS Commissioner Kristen Monroe said Friday afternoon.
Monroe said she is still learning the details of implementing the legislation.
Gratton has been charged with six felony and misdemeanor charges — first-degree assault and first-degree reckless endangerment, felonies; three counts of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child and misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana.
Gratton pleaded not guilty to the charges May 16 at a County Court arraignment. She is being held in Tioga County Jail with bail set at $2,500 cash or $5,000 bond.



Grad looks to military future


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Nick Reisweber talks with fellow graduating seniors during the Cortland High School 2006 commencement Friday night.

Staff Reporter
CORTLAND — Nick Reisweber has only attended Cortland High School since he was in 10th grade, but when his name was called to help lead the pledge of allegiance, he was cheered by his fellow graduates.
About 180 seniors graduated in a ceremony held at the Park Center ice arena at SUNY Cortland. A hot and humid night, the rain held off until the students had entered the ice arena from outside. Fans provided by the teachers’ union sporting the purple tiger, the school’s logo, or students’ own hand fans cooled the students.
Senior class president, a wrestler, a football outside linebacker and a quarterback, a baseball outfielder and first baseman, and member of the Student Council, Reisweber was also named senior athlete of the year in a separate awards ceremony before graduation when he received the Ross O. Shafer Award.
Reisweber said playing sports is something that helps him make friends; he has moved frequently because he was raised in a military family. He has lived in New York, Kansas, Oklahoma and California. He said the moving didn’t bother him until high school, when he wanted to be with his friends. He said the Regents testing caught him a bit by surprise and he had to double up on the second course of global studies and American history. “It wasn’t that tough because I like history,” Reisweber said.
“The first day I came here, I met the football team and the next day I was playing,” he said. That was the day before school; he had been practicing with his Oklahoma team just before he moved.
Reisweber started elementary school in West Point where his father, Lt. Col. Glenn Reisweber, had been stationed and now plans to continue his career at West Point, this time at the military academy.
“It’s something that I’ve known and I feel comfortable with. I like the idea of West Point. I have wanted to go since I lived there in second grade. It’s such a nice place,” he said.
What he didn’t know was the career path he wanted to take, but while at Cortland he took computer aided design and an independent study with technology teacher Charles Petit. That sparked an interest in engineering. He then completed an engineering internship with Cortland-based Resource Associates.
“I want to be an Army engineer,” Reisweber said.
“Tonight’s class is special,” said Executive Principal Steve Woodard. He said 129 of the graduates had grade averages for the four years of 80 or better. He said when combined the students have a total of 1,875 college credits and two students have 48 credits toward college.
“But most of all we have great human beings,” Woodard said.
A graduation ceremony would not be complete without advice from peers and administrators.
“Today and the next few days people will give you advise about your future,” said Amanda Malarkey, the class salutatorian.
“Have fun in your lives,” she advised her peers. She said to smile every day.
Graduates took this advice to heart as they batted balloons and balls during the ceremony, trying to keep them away from teachers’ hands.
Graduate Bethanne Barber’s mortarboard was ornately and colorfully decorated. “This is the last time we can just be kids,” she said. She said she and her friends got “cute animal stickers” to put on their caps. She also had written Cortland Crazies on it, explaining that some seniors started the club of basketball fans. This fall she heads to LeMoyne College in Syracuse to study psychology.
Valedictorian Maya Bahns said to focus on goals “we know will make us happy.”
“Each of you will soon embark on the most challenging part of your life,” said Board of Education President Tom Brown. He urged students to push themselves to achieve more.
“This class is filled with enormous potential,” said Ken “Abe” Brafman, principal of grades 11 and 12. He advised students not to get too stressed out and to think back to the “memorable moments” at Cortland High School if they need comfort.
Some of those moments he mentioned were Reisweber taking his opponents down, riding the bull at the all night party and wondering who would win the car, and on a more serious note Mehal Shah’s perfect score on the math portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Reisweber, who did not speak at the graduation, said his advice to students is to “keep going toward your goals.”
He is taking his own advice sooner than many of the graduates who will head off to college in the fall. Reisweber said he leaves Sunday for West Point, where he started cadet basic training on Monday.