HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new grand jury report calls the New York state child welfare system “woefully inadequate,” following the arrest of a Long Island man suspected of sexually abusing foster children in his care for more than 20 years.
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, the Suffolk County Supreme Court grand jury said the foster parent care could have been stopped years earlier if not for “abysmal” communication among the child-welfare agencies involved, including one that raised serious concerns that were apparently never documented.
Cesar Gonzalez-Mugaburu was arrested last year. He was accused of sexually abusing boys in his care.
The grand jury report said a remarkable series of failures allowed Gonzalez-Mugaburu to take in more than 100 children over 20 years, despite being the subject of 18 separate child-abuse investigations.
“The defendant, over the course of from 1996 up to 2015 and actually into 2016, had fostered 140 children ranging in age for the most part from 8 years of age to 14 years of age — all of them being boys,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said in March of last year.
Many of the boys Gonzalez-Mugaburu took in were developmentally disabled and had behavioral problems, police said last year.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu allegedly kept his victims quiet by threatening them and telling them he had installed hidden cameras in his house to watch their every move. A break came in January of last year, when detectives said two brothers who lived in the house came forward with credible stories of abuse.
But the report said the abuse could have stopped well before that.
Rules intended to protect the reputations of falsely accused foster parents were partly to blame for why no action was taken, the report said. Substandard abuse investigations were another issue. But the biggest problem, the report said, was the simple failure of the four governmental and one nonprofit child-welfare agencies to share information.
One agency, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, became so concerned with the number of suspected abuse reports against Gonzalez-Mugaburu in 2002 that it asked a contractor to stop placing children with him.
Yet, the agency did not document the reasoning behind that decision or communicate it to anyone in writing, including other agencies that were also sending children to the home, the grand jury report said. It identifies Gonzalez-Mugaburu only by the letter “A,” but its description of the allegations against him are identical to facts that have been made public in his criminal proceeding.
“The foster care system in the state of New York is a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Spota, who empaneled the grand jury. “There has to be some corrections that are made, especially with respect to how these agencies interact with each other.”
The report recommended a number of reforms. Among them: The state should get rid of the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sex abuse, create a central registry of foster homes and widen access to reports of abuse, even if they have been determined to be unfounded.
The break that led to Gonzalez-Mugaburu’s arrest came early last year after detectives say two brothers came forward with credible stories of abuse. Others credible accusers followed.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu, 60, now faces trial next month on charges he sexually abused eight children inside his home in Ridge. Prosecutors said statute of limitations laws precluded them from bringing even more charges.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu is also accused of starving other children and collecting over $1.5 million in tax free income, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu has pleaded not guilty. His attorney says he denies ever abusing children and contends the accusers are lying.
Prosecutors say Gonzalez-Mugaburu earned more than $1.5 million in tax-free income caring for foster children.
New York’s clearinghouse for suspected child abuse complaints received 18 reports regarding Gonzalez-Mugaburu as far back as 1998, each of which was investigated by Suffolk County child welfare officials.
Some were for less serious issues, including failing to fill a child’s eyeglasses prescription. There was also at least one allegation of sexual abuse. One complaint, involving a child with bruises, went as far as a formal hearing before officials decided the allegations were false.
All the complaints were ultimately deemed by investigators to be unfounded.
Still, in 2001 or 2002, Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services “verbally requested” that SCO Family of Services, one of the state’s largest foster home providers, stop placing children with Gonzalez-Mugaburu, according to the grand jury report. But that request was apparently never communicated in writing and no one could explain how the notification occurred.
“One witness, in fact, testified that this notification could have potentially have been made in passing during a conversation in a hallway,” the report said.
“For some reason, and with tragic results,” the grand jury wrote, the decision was never communicated to other agencies, including New York City’s massive child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, which continued to place dozens of children with Gonzalez-Mugaburu.
The grand jury specifically criticized an arrangement under which the New York City agency ceded responsibility for overseeing case management to SCO Family of Services because of a special state waiver.
“There was virtually no contact by ACS with these children or the foster parent,” Spota said. “They basically delegated every single responsibility they had to these nonprofit agencies and said to them, ‘They’re yours. Goodbye.’ And that is so wrong.”
SCO Family of Services said it never uncovered evidence of sexual abuse or improper sexual behavior in the home. But the organization’s chief strategy officer, Rose Anello, said last summer there were other issues, “and in retrospect and knowing what we know now, a decision to close the home should have been made at that time.”
SCO said it has worked with the state, ACS and Suffolk County “to diligently address each and every concern about the quality of care provided in this home.” Spokeswoman Leslie Johnson’s statement added the agency has “undertaken a rigorous corrective action plan to ensure complete transparency and significantly strengthen our foster care program. We are hopeful the findings included in this report will advance meaningful and systemic foster care reform in New York.”
ACS and Suffolk County child welfare department representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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