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This past year, the Assembly Majority worked across party lines to advance a sweeping package of laws aimed at better protecting children with physical and mental disabilities in residential care. One piece of legislation amends Jonathan’s Law to extend the period for retroactive record requests by parents or legal guardians (Ch. 321 of 2008 amending Ch. 24 of 2007). Another enhances the protections provided to children in residential care by redefining abuse and neglect for children in residential care and strengthening the investigative process (Ch. 323 of 2008).

Jonathan’s Law was a tremendous leap forward in our efforts to protect New York’s most vulnerable children and adults – and to keep their families better informed about their care. This important amendment builds upon that success, offering those individuals and their families greater protections and peace of mind.

Jonathan’s Law helps parents of children with physical and mental disabilities get the information they need to ensure their loved ones are being properly cared for. The new law broadens the definition of abuse and neglect of children living in licensed residential facilities, providing for swift investigation when violations are suspected and ensuring abusive behavior suffered at the hands of caregivers is not tolerated and will result in referrals to law enforcement.

Jonathan’s Law is named for Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old child with autism, who died in February 2007 while in the care of two health aides employed by the state’s OD Heck Developmental Center in Schenectady County, where Carey was a resident.

Additional laws that were passed:

• provide the right to a balanced and nutritious diet to individuals receiving mental hygiene services – and ban the withholding of food, drink or nourishment for the purpose of behavior modification or response conditioning (Ch. 324 of 2008); and

• create a workgroup to examine the issues related to existing work hours for direct-care employees in facilities operated or licensed by the state – getting input from families, community-based organizations, other caregivers and experts, as well as labor union representatives who represent direct-care employees (Ch. 327 of 2008).

While Jonathan’s Law was a long-overdue victory for vulnerable individuals and the people who care for them, more was needed when lives were at stake. This amendment and additional laws further empower families navigating the mental hygiene delivery system and protect children receiving services.

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