De Blasio's Child Welfare Reforms Falling Flat, Officials Say
MANHATTAN — A key component of the mayor's child-safety reforms — implemented in January in the wake of 4-year-old Myls Dobson's death — has been stymied by child welfare workers who don't file required paperwork and often fail to show up for court hearings, officials said.
Nearly 50 percent of requests for additional court hearings filed by the Administration for Children's Services — a requirement ordered by Mayor Bill de Blasio — were rejected by city judges because case workers failed to write legally required final reports, a source familiar with the family court process said.
De Blasio introduced changes to the child welfare system in hopes of preventing children from slipping through the cracks after social workers failed to notice or react to multiple warning signs in the short, tortured life of little Myls, who was found dead Jan. 9 in the bathtub of a Midtown luxury high-rise after having been beaten, burned and starved, police said.
Under de Blasio's changes, ACS case workers are required to ask judges for an additional hearing before the termination of all child abuse and neglect cases to determine if the child needs ongoing supervision.
"New York City’s Family Court Judges have been making case by case determinations and have calendared over 50 percent of the hearings that have been requested,” ACS spokesman Christopher McKniff said.
But nearly half the time, case workers have failed to even ask judges to consider "restoring," or extending a case that is in the process of being closed, said those familiar with the process. Other times, those who ask for extensions fail to show up to hearings to discuss them, court officials said.
"When ACS has a reason to restore the case, the judges are doing so willingly. However, when judges are simply asked to restore the case without legal sufficiency, some judges are not," said Office of Court Administration spokesman David Bookstaver, whose agency oversees New York state courts, including family court.
"In fact, there have been cases when the judge has restored the case and ACS has failed to appear," Bookstaver added.
On Monday alone, in at least three separate cases, ACS workers failed to show up to hearings they had requested to determine if supervision should continue, a source familiar with the system said.
Insiders compared de Blasio's reforms to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound, adding that the process, which did not add additional resources, put another burden on the overworked and understaffed city welfare agency.
"Court dates don't protect children," court appointed Family Court lawyer Michael Conroy said. "The question is: Is ACS out there doing their jobs? They're asking for the court to double-check that [caseworkers] are doing their jobs correctly."
Most ACS workers are overtaxed to begin with, Conroy said.
"There's no way you can be a worker in this system and not be buried in work," he said.
ACS officials defended their handling of cases.
“We believe that end of supervision is an important moment in a child welfare case to assess any outstanding risk factors, but we trust that each judge will review the cases carefully and continue to make individual assessments," ACS spokesman Chris McKniff said, adding that judges grant requested hearings more than half the time.
"We are all trying to do what we think is in the best interest of children and families and keeping them safe.”
Court officials said the other 48 percent of the cases were rejected because case workers failed to file the reports that focus on the parents' fitness to care for a child, officials said.
McKniff said the agency would not comment on the issue of absent caseworkers and missing paperwork.
ACS, which comes under renewed scrutiny with every high-profile child death, was back in the spotlight after Myls was found dead.
The child's father, Okee Wade, had left the boy with his girlfriend, Kryzie King, 27, a day before his arrest on charges of failing to show up for a court hearing in Las Vegas. When the arresting officers asked if he had any children, Myls' father told them the boy was being taken care of, police said.
An internal investigation found ACS had failed to explore allegations of domestic abuse in Myls' home and had not pushed the court for the child to be removed from his father's care. Despite the agency's supervision over the household, the caseworker was unaware that Myls' father was in jail for six months from September 2012 to February 2013, the investigation found.
“The senseless death of Myls Dobson is a searing reminder that when it comes to safeguarding the lives of our children, we must devote every available resource to those agencies and organizations charged with protecting them,” the mayor said at the time.
King has yet to be charged with murder because Myls' cause of death has not been determined, police sources said. Assistant District Attorney Niki Blumberg previously told the judge in the case that she expects murder charges to be filed soon.
King's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, lawyers for Myls' estate notified the city that they plan to sue for gross negligence because New York "failed to protect the infant from the inadequate, unstable and ultimately dangerous home life in which [Myls] was living," according to paperwork filed by lawyer David Thiruselvam.