Frequently Asked Questions - Justice Center

Responsibilities of the Justice Center

The Justice Center was created in legislation known as the “Protection of People with Special Needs Act” to establish the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting people with special needs.  It serves both as a law enforcement agency and as an advocate for people with special needs.  The Justice Center’s responsibilities include:

  • Advocating on behalf of people with special needs and overseeing the quality of care they receive;
  • Ensuring that all allegations of abuse and neglect are fully investigated.   The Justice Center has legal authority to investigate incidents involving people with special needs. Its Special Prosecutor/Inspector General has the authority to prosecute allegations that rise to the level of criminal offenses;
  • Operating a 24/7 Hotline which receives reports of allegations of abuse, neglect and significant incidents.  Reports are made by service providers and others who are “mandated reporters” as well as by any individual who witnesses or suspects the abuse or neglect of a person with special needs;
  • Maintaining a comprehensive statewide database that tracks cases until they are resolved and allows the Justice Center to monitor trends and develop abuse prevention initiatives;
  • Maintaining a “Staff Exclusion List” of individuals found responsible for the serious abuse or neglect of a person with special needs.   Anyone entered into this statewide register is prohibited from ever working again with people with special needs in New York. 
  • Operating an Information and Referral Line to respond to general disability-related inquiries;
  • Continuing existing advocacy programs including the Developmental Center Ombudsman Program, Surrogate Decision-Making, Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities (TRAID) and Adult Homes Advocacy;
  • Administering the Inter-agency Coordinating Council for Services to Persons Who Are Deaf, Deaf-Blind or Hard-of-Hearing;
  • Monitoring the quality of mental health care in New York State correctional facilities; and
  • Promoting the inclusion of people with special needs in all aspects of community life.
What is the contact number?

The toll-free 24/7 Vulnerable Persons Central Register (VPCR) hotline is 1-855-373-2122.  The tele-typewriter (TTY) service is available by calling 1-855-373-2123.

General Information Line

The Justice Center operates a toll-free Information and Referral (I&R) Line, a statewide service that provides assistance to callers who have questions or concerns about disability services or issues.  The I&R Line is staffed by trained professionals who can be reached during normal business hours (M-F 8:30 am to 4:30 pm).   For voice calls, dial 1-800-624-4143. For TTY calls, dial 7-1-1 for the NYS Relay and give the operator 1-800-624-4143.  To contact I&R staff by email: infoassistance@justicecenter.ny.gov.

What is the contact information for the Justice Center?

The Justice Center is located at 161 Delaware Avenue, Delmar, NY 12054. For general information, call (518) 549-0200 during normal business hours (M-F, 8:30 am-5:00 pm).

Protection and Oversight

The Act defines a “vulnerable person” as a person who, due to physical or cognitive disabilities or the need for services or placement, is receiving care from a facility or provider within the systems of the State Oversight Agencies (SOA): 

  • Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)
    • Facilities and programs that are operated, certified, or licensed by OPWDD
  • Office of Mental Health (OMH)
    • With some exceptions, facilities and programs that are operated, certified, or licensed by OMH
  • Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)
    • Facilities and provider agencies that are operated, certified, or licensed by OASAS
  • Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)
    • Facilities and programs operated by OCFS for youth placed in the custody of the Commissioner of OCFS
    • OCFS licensed or certified residential facilities that care for abandoned, abused, neglected, and dependent children, Persons in Need of Supervision, or juvenile delinquents
    • Family-type homes for adults
    • OCFS certified runaway and homeless youth programs
    • OCFS certified youth detention facilities
  • Department of Health (DOH)
    • Adult care facilities licensed by DOH that have over 80 beds, and where at least 25 percent of the residents are persons with serious mental illness and where fewer than 55 percent of beds designated as Assisted Living Program (ALP) beds
    • Overnight, summer day and traveling summer day camps for children with developmental disabilities under the jurisdiction of DOH
  • State Education Department (SED)
    • New York State School for the Blind
    • New York State School for the Deaf
    • State-supported (4201) schools, which have a residential component
    • Special Act School Districts
    • In-state private residential schools approved by SED
    • Residential schools or facilities located outside  of  New  York  State that serve New York State residents
What happens when the VPCR Hotline receives a report of abuse and neglect?

A trained call center representative will first determine if an emergency response is necessary and/or if the person receiving services faces imminent danger.  If it is an emergency situation, the representative will instruct the caller to phone 9-1-1 immediately, if this has not yet occurred.  A Justice Center supervisor will also contact the appropriate agency supervisor to inform him/her of the report.

When a caller makes a report, the call center representative carefully enters all details of the incident into an automated case management system. Serious abuse and neglect cases will be investigated by the Justice Center, with lesser offenses generally delegated to the appropriate state agency for investigation.  If criminal conduct may be involved, the Justice Center’s Special Prosecutor/Inspector General will investigate and prosecute offenders when the evidence warrants such action.

Types of Incidents

Reports should be made regarding any situation in which a person who is receiving supports or services is experiencing abuse, neglect, sexual, financial or emotional exploitation, or is at risk of experiencing any of these reportable incidents in one of the settings over which the Justice Center has jurisdiction.

Types of abuse and neglect to be reported include:

  • Physical abuse: intentional contact such as: hitting, kicking, shoving, corporal punishment or an injury which cannot be explained and is suspicious due to extent or location;
  • Sexual abuse:  inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, sexual assault, taking or distributing sexually explicit photos, voyeurism or other sexual exploitation;
  • Psychological or emotional abuse:  taunting, name calling, using threatening words or gestures; 
  • Deliberate misuse of restraint or seclusion:  use of these interventions with excessive force, as a punishment or for the convenience of staff;
  • Neglect:  failure to provide supervision, or adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care or access to an educational entitlement;
  • Aversive conditioning: Unpleasant physical stimulus used to modify behavior without person-specific legal authorization; or 
  • Obstruction: Interfering with the discovery, reporting or investigation of abuse/neglect, falsifying records or intentionally making false statements.

Types of significant incidents to be reported include:

  • Use of restraint when it is avoidable, involves a banned technique or is used by inadequately trained staff;
  • Unauthorized seclusion or time-out;
  • Harmful interactions between people with special needs that could reasonably have been prevented;  
  • Administration of a medication contrary to a medical order resulting in an adverse impact; or
  • Any other conduct identified in regulations of the State Oversight Agency, pursuant to guidelines or standards established by the Justice Center Executive Director.
Who Should Report

The Justice Center encourages reports from anyone with special needs who has been a victim of abuse, has witnessed -- or has reasonable cause to suspect that a person with special needs in a setting over which the Justice Center has jurisdiction has been abused or neglected or is in danger of abuse or neglect.  Many professionals are mandated by law to report suspected abuse or neglect to the Justice Center.

Who is Required by Law to Report

The “Protection of People with Special Needs Act” requires that reports of abuse and neglect be made to the Justice Center by anyone who has regular and substantial contact with people being served. This would include employees, volunteers, directors and operators of covered facilities and programs, as well as external staff.

In addition, certain human services professionals who work with individuals with special needs or disabilities are considered by law to be “Mandated Reporters” who must report incidents of abuse and neglect. These professionals include: child care or foster care worker; chiropractor; Christian science practitioner; coroner; dental hygienist; dentist; District Attorney or Assistant District Attorney; emergency medical technician; hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of persons; intern; investigator employed in the office of the District Attorney; any other law enforcement official; licensed creative arts therapist; licensed marriage and family therapist; licensed mental health counselor; licensed occupational therapist; licensed physical therapist; licensed practical nurse; licensed psychoanalyst; licensed speech/language pathologist/audiologist; medical examiner; mental health professional; nurse practitioner; all persons credentialed by the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services; optometrist; osteopath; peace officer; physician; podiatrist; police officer; psychologist; registered nurse; registered physician’s assistant; resident (medical); social services worker; social worker; surgeon, and school official, including but not limited to: school teacher, school guidance counselor; school psychologist; school social worker; school nurse; school administrator; or other school personnel required to hold teaching or administrative license or certificate.

When are Mandated Reporters Required to Report

Mandated Reporters have a legal duty to call the Vulnerable Persons Central Register (VPCR) Hotline if they have reasonable cause to suspect a reportable incident involving a person with special needs. She/he is required to make a report to the VPCR immediately upon discovery.

  • Reasonable cause means that, based on the reporter’s observations, training and experience, the reporter has a suspicion that a vulnerable person has been subject to abuse or neglect as described below.  Significant incidents that may place a vulnerable person at risk of harm must also be reported.  Reasonable cause can be as simple as doubting the explanation given for an injury.
  • Immediately means “right-away;” however, reporting may be delayed to prevent harm (e.g., for as long as it takes to call emergency responders and/or address the need to maintain supervision).  Staff “going off-duty” does not justify a reporting delay.  In any event, reports must be made to the VPCR within 24 hours.
  • Discovery comes from witnessing the situation or when the vulnerable person or another individual comes to the reporter and the available information indicates reasonable cause.

In addition to Mandated Reporters, anyone who has reasonable cause to suspect a reportable incident involving a person with special needs may call the VPCR.  If a Mandated Reporter or any other person has doubts about whether the available information indicates such reasonable cause, he or she should call the VPCR.

Reporting to the VPCR is an additional reporting requirement and does not relieve the Mandated Reporter of any other reporting requirements or duties that may be required by law, regulation or policy.   

What Number do I Call

The VPCR Hotline number is 1-855-373-2122.  It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a toll-free call.

Non-English Speakers

The Justice Center can accommodate non-English speakers through its language interpreter services.  It also has the capability to assist hearing-impaired individuals who need to make a report.  The Tele-Typewriter (TTY) service is available by calling 1-855-373-2123.

Other Ways to Report

Custodians (e.g., employees, volunteers, directors and operators of covered facilities and programs as well as external staff who have regular and substantial contact with people being served) can report an incident by completing the web form on the Justice Center’s website.  Reports submitted via web form are handled in a similar manner to call reports.

What Happens in an Unsafe Situation

An individual’s safety is the primary concern of the Justice Center.  State agencies (OPWDD, OMH, OCFS, DOH, SED, and OASAS) and their associated providers are responsible for being first responders in an emergency situation and for implementing the actions needed to safeguard an individual who is in an unsafe situation.

As an additional safeguard, the Justice Center will notify the appropriate state agency of the emergency or other reported incident that is deemed to be time-sensitive.  The VPCR Hotline also has a law enforcement presence and will be able to immediately contact police if necessary.

Jurisdiction

The Justice Center has jurisdiction over several systems.  However, should the Justice Center receive a report from outside its jurisdiction, it will collect all relevant information and forward the information to the responsible entity for appropriate handling.  Whenever possible, the Justice Center will endeavor to connect the caller to the appropriate entity immediately.

Mistreatment in an Uncertified Site

The Justice Center will receive these complaints and process or refer them as appropriate.

Students in Schools

The Justice Center is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse and neglect involving day and residential students who attend a residential school (e.g., the New York State School for the Blind, the New York State School for the Deaf, a State-supported school which has a residential component, a Special Act School, or an approved private residential school).  

The law also authorizes the Justice Center to investigate all complaints of abuse and neglect at all approved out-of-state schools serving students with disabilities.  In coordination with the Justice Center, the State Education Department and other state oversight agencies will investigate significant incidents that occur in these schools and monitor corrective action plans.

Employees Found Responsible

The Justice Center maintains a “Staff Exclusion List,” a statewide register that contains the names of individuals found responsible for serious or repeated acts of abuse or neglect as defined by law.  Individuals on the Staff Exclusion List (SEL) will be prohibited from being hired by any facility or provider agency licensed or certified by a State Oversight Agency that serve people with special needs.  Employers are required to check this list before hiring employees who will be working with anyone with special needs.

SEL

No. Under the law, access to the Staff Exclusion List (SEL) is limited to authorized staff at the Justice Center who will advise providers if a potential applicant is on the list.

Accountability for Inadequate Staffing

Systemic issues, such as staffing, will be addressed through the Oversight and Monitoring function of the Justice Center.  Depending on the situation, either the responsible state agency or the Justice Center will oversee a Corrective Action Plan, and work with the provider to ensure the plan is implemented.

Other Law Enforcement Agencies

In criminal cases, the Justice Center collaborates with State Police, local law enforcement agencies and District Attorneys to pursue prosecution to the extent allowed by the law.  Justice Center staff includes trained investigators with the authority to make arrests.  

The Justice Center also has a Special Prosecutor/Inspector General who can bring criminal charges in courts across the state. The Special Prosecutor/Inspector General is not intended to replace local law enforcement, but to provide additional resources to existing law enforcement agencies and District Attorneys in investigating and prosecuting cases of abuse and neglect involving people with special needs.

Outreach &Communications

The Justice Center has distributed 35,000 posters and other publications with this information to state-operated certified or licensed facilities and programs that serve people with special needs.  It also maintains a comprehensive website which provides information, news updates and other important resources.

Reporting Mission Goals

A comprehensive statewide database will enable the Justice Center to track and monitor all reportable incidents, including the results of investigations by types of facilities and programs and corrective actions taken.  The Justice Center’s Research and Analytics Unit will analyze abuse patterns and trends, make recommendations for appropriate preventive and corrective actions to repair faulty systems and also hold accountable those in charge of creating and maintaining such systems. The “Protection of People with Special Needs Act” requires the Justice Center to report on an annual basis on efforts undertaken to promote improved quality of care for people with special needs and we may, in our judgment, choose to release periodic reports more frequently.

Purpose

The Advisory Council provides guidance to the Justice Center in the development of policies, programs and regulations.  The Council is comprised of a minimum of 15 members who are appointed for 1 to 3-year terms by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.  Members include service providers, people who have or are currently receiving services, their family members and advocates.  At least one-half of the members must be individuals or parents or relatives of individuals who are or have received services from programs within the Justice Center’s jurisdiction.  The Council meets at least 4 times a year.

Publicizing Information

The Justice Center coordinates with state agencies to broadly communicate its purpose, capabilities, and Hotline number to its multiple constituents (e.g., mandated reporters, provider staff, persons receiving services, families of persons receiving services and the general public.) 

Justice Center communication programs include: 

  • Speaking engagements by senior staff;
  • The Justice Center’s website;
  • News releases to news media;
  • Publications, and;
  • Direct communications to service provider facilities.