Sobering Report Describes Trends in Deaths of Abused and Neglected Children
The New York Times
By JO CRAVEN McGINTY
January 20, 2012
The child who came to be known as Case No. 95-2011-00009 was the fourth born into a home where abuse and neglect were practically a family tradition.
Still, she refused, and one by one, the authorities removed the children. She lost custody of her 10-year-old son in 2004. Her 7-year-old daughter was removed in 2005. And her 3-year-old daughter was taken in 2008.
When she became pregnant with her fourth child, there was an active neglect case against her. Yet when she delivered the healthy boy on Dec. 27, 2010, he was released to her care.
Within a month, he was dead.
The cause was never determined, though asphyxiation was suspected because the boy died while sleeping in his mother’s arms. And he was just one of dozens of children who have died in the last few years in families with a history of neglect or abuse, according to a new report by New York City’s public advocate. In more than half the cases, the families had been the subject of at least three complaints, and in some instances, there had been more than 10.
“That says we are missing an opportunity to intervene as early as possible,” the public advocate, Bill de Blasio, said in an interview.
In one case, a medically fragile 3-year-old was entrusted to her grandmother, who had been reported 13 times for complaints including inadequate guardianship and physical abuse. The grandmother was not faulted for the death, which was attributed to the child’s medical condition, but she was described as overwhelmed by her own children, who were difficult to handle and excessively truant from school.
In another case, a 5-year-old Bronx boy whose family had been reported five times was beaten to death by his mother, the police said, after he broke their television. The mother was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Mr. de Blasio’s staff analyzed 75 child fatality reports released by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services in 2011. The state produces the reports after the death of an abused or neglected child or after any child dies under suspicious circumstances. The reports withhold names, and because they take several months to complete, not all of the deaths occurred in 2011.
The public advocate’s analysis tallies all reports of abuse or neglect, regardless of whether they were substantiated. It also counts reports that date back to previous generations.
The analysis presents a sobering, if narrow, view of the city’s performance in protecting abused, neglected and at-risk children. In 2011 alone, the Administration for Children’s Services, the city’s child welfare agency, investigated complaints involving 88,191 children, according to agency figures. Almost 4,000 were removed from their homes.
Forty-eight of the children who died, or about two-thirds of the total, were infants and toddlers. In about 45 percent of cases, the medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was accidental or the result of a medical condition. The cause was undetermined in a third of the cases, 25 in all. And 15 of the deaths, or 20 percent, were ruled homicides.
The report identifies several trends. Fifty-six percent of the families had been the subject of multiple complaints. Forty-four percent of the mothers had been abused as children. And despite continuing efforts by the Administration for Children’s Services to educate families about sleeping hazards, efforts the public advocate praised, 29 percent of the infants who died were suffocated, often when a sleeping parent rolled over on them.
Mr. de Blasio released the report to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year-old Brooklyn girl whose brutal beating by her stepfather, which came after city workers missed several warning signs of abuse, prompted the city to overhaul the child welfare system.
“A.C.S. has clearly made progress, but there are things they keep missing,” Mr. de Blasio said. “There is a profound sense, since the day Nixzmary died, that if a child with so many risk indicators is lost, it’s because the dots are not being connected.”
But the agency criticized the analysis, calling it disingenuous and misleading.
“A.C.S. has been working for the past several years to counter the trends alluded to in this report,” said Michael Fagan, an agency spokesman. The agency’s strategies, Mr. Fagan said, include a weekly review of cases, a new public service announcement campaign on safe sleeping for infants, and the addition of 60 former law enforcement officers to the 50 already on staff.
Among its recommendations, the report suggests that families with multiple reports of abuse or neglect should prompt an internal review by the agency. In addition, Mr. de Blasio plans to introduce legislation to the City Council to require the agency to develop a panel of outside experts to review a portion of the cases.