The death of a 6-year-old boy in Harlem this week set off alarms at City Hall about the ability of New York’s Administration for Children's Services to care for at-risk children.
Zymere Perkins was determined to have been beaten to death with a broomstick by his troubled mother’s hulking boyfriend Ryshiem Smith. Reports indicate that five different ACS workers had been called to the Geraldine Perkin’s home in regards to possible incidents of child abuse dating back to 2010; in at least three cases the allegations of abuse were confirmed.
“How could they miss repeated child abuse?” Randi Mandelbaum, clinical professor of law and director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers Law School said to Metro.
“It looks like they brought in a lot of different entities that should have realized what was going on,” Mandelbaum said. She pointed out that many of these case-workers are not social workers and may very well lack the expertise to determine how something should be handled.
“I think more expertise and training is needed overall, she said. They are making life and death decisions.”
With child welfare Commissioner Gladys Carrion, who had expressed deep regret over the incident, by de Blasio’s side, several actions were announced to try and make immediate fixes to the apparently broken system.
The reforms include:
- Requiring agency approval every time a contracted services provider determines that a case should be closed.
- Creating additional oversight of child protective staffers by teams assembled outside their division.
- Providing additional in-house training for dealing with suspected physical abuse.
- New liaisons with the District Attorney’s Office to work with the Department of Education on when student absences should trigger investigations.
“The central question is did something go profoundly wrong here? Yes,” the mayor said. “I want to be very clear the buck stops here.”
The incident might be an indication that the increasing case-load per ACS staffer is too high. According to reports, the average number of cases per child protective agent has increased from 8.2 in 2013 to 10.6 in 2016.
The five workers that responded to the Perkins incidents have been put on desk duty as they await investigations.
It is not yet known how their responsibility in the boy's death will be qualified, but in the past ACS workers have been held accountable when a child dies. In 2013, ACS workers Damon Adams and Chereece Bell were charged with second-degree murder for the abuse and neglect death of 4-year-old Marchella Brett-Pierce. The charges were later dropped.
“Many times, there are warnings, and the question is, what do we do with those warnings?” de Blasio asked.