NEW YORK CITY — Two children died and another nearly died from severe injuries after the city's child welfare agency failed to properly protect them in what appeared to be a system-wide failure, according to a Department of Investigation report released Tuesday.
The 18-month investigation into the Administration for Children's Services revealed that the agency failed to properly report abuse, review past investigations and prevent abuse — which in two cases resulted in a child's death, despite multiple interactions with the abused children.
“DOI’s investigation found that on several occasions ACS and its provider agencies failed to take necessary steps to protect children and at times may actually have put them in harm’s way,” DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said. “Equally troubling, data obtained by DOI suggests that these are not isolated instances and that ACS may have repeatedly failed to meet legal and procedural requirements.”
Details of the three specific fatal or nearly-fatal cases scrutinized in the DOI report are grim.
Prior to the violent abuse that sent a child to the hospital after he was abused by his mother and father, ACS had investigated the family four separate times in a 2-year period.
But the agency never interviewed key witnesses of the abuse — and as a result a court couldn't take the child away and put him into a foster home, investigators said.
Only after the child was hospitalized for life-threatening injuries did ACS conduct a full investigation that finally took the child and his siblings out of their home and led to the parents being arrested for assault and endangering the welfare of a child, DOI said.
The other two children were not so lucky. One was beaten to death by their mother despite 13 investigations of her by ACS over more than a decade, officials said.
The other child died under questionable circumstances, but the mother had been investigated for neglect 11 times in a 12 year period. In addition, the children had reported abuse while in foster care, but those allegations were never reported to the city's abuse hotline. A report to the hotline is the only way an investigation can be triggered.
DOI further found that this kind of neglect may be systematic in ACS.
A shocking 16 percent of children who ACS determined were abused or neglected were subsequently abused or neglected again within a one-year period, according to the report.
That rate has not changed in four years — and is more than double the 7 percent goal set by the state.
However, because the ACS does not properly document its compliance with law and its policies, the DOI found it impossible to fully identify systematic issues within the agency.
ACS also failed to properly oversee that foster care provider agencies that it contracts with to ensure they follow all laws and ACS policies and procedures to ensure children’s safety, well-being, and proper discharge from foster care.
This is the second time in as many months that DOI has scrutinized ACS.
Just last month, the agency issued a report that found the ACS failed to oversee employees and maintain facilities. That report found that negligence of Boys Town, the agency ACS contracted to run a Park Slope group home, contributed to the escape of three boys from the home who went on to rape a woman in Chinatown in June 2015.
DOI made a number of recommendations for ACS to improve the situation, including that ACS better document case information and make it available to ACS investigative staff, but ACS rejected some of their recommendations, according to the report.
In addition, ACS refused to discipline "six of the seven individuals whose conduct DOI also referred to ACS for possible action," investigators wrote.
Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the agency, saying that while he had not read the report, they were already making changes.
"We are making a series of changes ... We're putting substantial investments in to increase the amount of preventative services, to reduce the caseloads for our workers, to improve the training. I think all these things will really have an effect," he said at an unrelated press conference in Queens Tuesday. "My view is our job is literally to save every child, that is the standard I hold."
ACS released a statement citing the investments the mayor has made to the agency since taking office, including adding $100 million to its budget to hire 700 more staffers, opening two new offices in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and hiring 40 more lawyers.
The agency is on track to add an additional $53 million for additional preventive services in the coming year, and has asked Casey Family Programs to do "a full analysis of the agency’s policies and procedures for child safety practices and decision-making," a spokeswoman said.