NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Three New York City Administration of Children and Family Services are out of a job as a City Council committee grilled agency leadership and members of the Mayor Bill de Blasio administration about the death of 6-year-old Harlem boy Zymere Perkins.
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, City Council members made it clear to those in charge Wednesday that they did a lousy job in the heartbreaking case.
“I need to know what you found that happened in this case. Such so many people involved — at least nine — that nobody stepped in to save this this child’s life,” said Queens Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-23rd). “And I don’t get it.”
No one needed photos of Zymere at the hearing, where council members grilled Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Herminia Palacio and others about the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, or ACS.
“We did, as a city, fail this child,” Palacio said.
Zymere died on Sept. 26, and the New York City Medical Examiner’s office ruled that his death was caused by fatal child abuse syndrome – meaning Zymere had evidence of acute and chronic abuse in the form of fresh injuries and old scars. It was later alleged that the ACS failed to take action despite multiple contacts with Zymere’s mother and her boyfriend.
Noticeably absent from the hearing Wednesday ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión, who resigned this week but is still on the job until a replacement is named.
She publicly cried the last time she was on the hot seat back in October, pressed to explain why Perkins wasn’t protected from torture and death.
Proof emerged that the boy’s horrifically abusive home environment was known to caseworkers.
In Carrión’s place, a contrite Palacio called the red tape and human errors an inexcusable “perfect storm.”
“We are taking strong disciplinary action,” Palacio said.
The City Council General Welfare Committee members did not just take stock of the ACS’ failures. They are also discussing key reforms.
City Council members said the removal of the commissioner, plus three firings and six demotions and suspensions are not enough to change ACS for the better. A state report found ACS cannot be trusted to police itself.
The report on the state investigation into Perkins’ death was made public on Tuesday. The report, issued by the state Office of Children and Family Services, detailed five complaints of abuse and neglect that ACS investigated involving Perkins.
It followed a report on the investigation that was issued by ACS itself.
The state report indicated that prior complaints against Zymere’s family were filed between June 22, 2010 and April 18 of this year, the state said.
The ACS complaint reports contained repeated claims of drug and alcohol abuse by Zymere’s family, excessive corporal punishment, and inadequate guardianship of Zymere by his mother and her boyfriend, the state said.
“The level of casework activity for all cases was insufficient and was particularly lacking given the family circumstances,” the OCFS report said.
On April 18 of this year, ACS received a complaint that Zymere had arrived at school with multiple bruises and scratches on both legs, the OCFS said. The school nurse noted that he seemed to be in pain, the OCFS said.
Zymere claimed that he had fallen off his scooter and that his cousins had been hitting him, the OCFS report said.
On Feb. 2, ACS received allegations that Zymere was being abused by his mother and her partner, the OCFS said. ACS received a report that the boy had a broken jaw in October 2015, and a short time earlier, he had been reported to have scratches near his eye and a tooth knocked out, the OCFS said.
ACS dismissed as unfounded the allegation that Zymere had suffered a fracture on the grounds that a “medical professional” had determined that he did not have a broken jaw, the OCFS said. The claim came from Zymere’s mother, and ACS never tried to contact the medical professional, the OCFS said.
Zymere also reportedly told child protective specialists that he was spanked with a belt and that he “didn’t get to eat good,” if he was bad, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported. There’s also testimony of the boy receiving cold shower punishments.
When the boy died in September, a doctor estimated that he had been dead for 17 hours before his mother, Geraldine Perkins, 26, brought him to a hospital.
The death was ruled a homicide.
Zymere’s mother and her boyfriend, 42-year-old Rysheim Smith, have been charged with child endangerment.
Following the release of the state report, Mayor de Blasio announced in a statement Tuesday night that three ACS employees involved in Zymere’s case have been fired, and the city has also moved to suspend and demote six more employees.
De Blasio on Wednesday announced that a new “independent monitor” will watch over the agency, as the state ordered. The ACS vowed to institute stronger vetting to hire the right people, as well as enhanced training, lower caseloads per employee, and more managerial oversight within ACS.
“For the love of these children, let’s change this,” said Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-14th).
But whether all that reduces human error to prevent another case like Zymere’s remains to be seen.
The Department of Education also came under fire in the ACS and state reports, which stated that people at Zymere’s school saw the bruises and knew he came to class in pain. CBS2’s Scott Rapoport was demanding answers from schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on preventing future tragedies.
Rapoport asked if the DOE could have done more to help Zymere.
“I think at this time what’s really important to understand is that safety is always going to be one of our concerns and that this is a tragedy,” Fariña said.
Fariña did not directly answer the question in the wake of the indications that people in Zymere’s school saw disturbing signs of physical abuse.
“I haven’t read the report yet, and I will,” Fariña said.
The state report said a nurse at Zymere’s school found him in pain with “multiple bruises and scratches on his leg” on the occasion when he said he fell off his scooter.
The state report said Zymere also told the child protective specialist handling the case that “when he did not behave, he was spanked.”
But instead of raising suspicion, the report said, “ACS closed this investigation as ‘unfounded.'”
How does that happen, and should school employees do more – even going above the level of ACS?
“We have put a lot of protocols in place to ensure these tragedies like this do not happen,” Fariña said.
But Rapoport noted that a tragedy did happen in Zymere’s case, and asked what Fariña would say to someone who says the protocols were not enough.
“I am not going to say anything until the investigation is complete,” Fariña said.
CBS2 also contacted the United Federation of Teachers to ask about the protocols and whether they should do more to intervene, such as going to the NYPD. There was no response as of late Wednesday.
So what should school employees do in cases like this to push harder, whom should they turn to, and would there be potential repercussions for parents who would essentially be the accused?
It all leads back to one fundamental question for Fariña about what the DOE could have done to help Zymere.
“Parents have the right to be concerned,” she said. “They send children to us, and we assure them of safety. And I have to tell you that our safety protocols are in place and we will follow them to the letter of the law.”