De Blasio's Past as ACS Watchdog in Spotlight After Myls Dobson's Death
CIVIC CENTER — He was a fierce critic of the city’s Administration of Children’s Services during his time in the City Council and as public advocate — now, as it faces new scrutiny, Mayor Bill de Blasio's the man in charge.
After years spent pushing to reform the agency, de Blasio is coming under pressure to act following the death of 4-year-old Myls Dobson last week.
In January 2012, back when he was public advocate, de Blasio released a report on an investigation into dozens of fatality cases handled by the ACS. He released a report on the sixth anniversary of the death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown, whose horrific death shocked the city and led to reforms, and as a councilman and head of the committee with oversight of ACS, de Blasio had been at the forefront of the push for change.
''ACS has clearly made progress, but there are things they keep missing,'' de Blasio said in a 2012 interview.
''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 nearly two years after the release of that report and a decade after Nixzmary’s death, ACS is again looking into what more it could have done to connect the dots to save a child's life after a boy who was once in their caseload ended up dead following three weeks of brutal abuse.
Now, Myls' family said they hope his death will spur more potentially life-saving changes.
Speaking Sunday at a vigil outside the Ritz Plaza on West 43rd Street, inside which Myls' body was found, his grandmother Faye Bennett said she hoped the boy's death will help stop children slipping through the cracks.
"The good that’s going to come from this is everything," she said, "because Myls brought a lot of people together."
Myls, who was supervised for a year by ACS investigators until Sept. 2012, was found dead in a bathtub on Jan. 8, his body emaciated and his skin covered in cuts, burns and other injuries.
Myls had been in the custody of his father, Okee Wade, until Wade was imprisoned. He left the boy with his transgender girlfriend, Kryzie King, 27, on Dec. 18, 2013. King has been charged with assault and reckless endangerment.
Sources said Wade knew he was about to be arrested the next day on a warrant after failing to appear at a court hearing on charges of stealing from bank accounts in Atlantic City. Wade told the arresting officers that the child was in safe hands, and police did not try to check on the boy, sources said.
Under a loophole in child safety law, the NYPD is not required to notify child welfare workers when they arrest a suspect who is the primary caregiver of a child, even when that child has had previous contact with the ACS, according to those familiar with Myls' case.
The mayor called Myls' death tragic and noted that there would be no “rest until we make the system better."
“We've got to keep looking for more ways to identify where a child might be in danger, and get to them in time,” de Blasio added, announcing that his administration was launching an investigation into Myls' death that is expected to be completed by the end of this week.
“Each one of these tragedies — it's our job to try to stop and, God forbid when they happen, it's our job to learn from them and try every time to do better so we can reach more children,” the mayor said.
ACS officials have said their hands are tied once a child's case is closed unless someone makes a complaint. They received no reports concerning Myls after Dec. 18, according to sources.
De Blasio's successor as Public Advocate, Letitia James, has stepped into the role he once filled, calling for more to be done to close the loophole that leaves children of incarcerated parents without oversight.
Urging lawmakers to close that loophole, James said in a statement on Saturday, "There is nothing more horrific than the death of a child and so we must act with the highest sense of urgency to address the gaps in our system that allowed this to happen.
"Only by closing these gaps can we ensure that this tragedy doesn't repeat itself."
Funeral plans are still being finalized, Myls' family said. But they expect it to be an event that unites the city.
"We hope to see everybody there," Tony Herbert, a community advocate who's representing Myls' mom, Ashlee Dobson, who is also known in court documents as Ashley Dobson. "I do expect the entire city of New York to come."