NEW YORK CITY — The embattled head of the city's child welfare agency, Gladys Carrión, resigned Monday in the face of withering criticism over her leadership.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that his administration is currently looking for her replacement, days after he expressed confidence in the agency and its "very, very important work."
"Today, I accepted the resignation of my colleague and friend Gladys Carrión. Gladys has spent four decades serving the public with excellence and an unparalleled commitment to the children and families of New York. Gladys’ leadership and reforms have ushered in a heightened level of accountability and performance at the Administration for Children’s Services," the mayor said in a statement.
Carrión's tenure at the Administration for Children's Services was marked by several child deaths, including Myls Dobson, Zymere Perkins and, most recently, Jaden Jordan.
Carrión, who has worked in the field of child protective services for 40 years, told de Blasio in a letter that she planned to retire because it was "best for my well-being."
Carrión said she was "honored to accept the position" as ACS head when de Blasio, then mayor-elect, asked her to do so in late 2013.
ACS and other city agencies had multiple interactions with Zymere and his mother over allegations of child abuse, some of which were substantiated, but failed to take the boy out of the home. He had endured months of abuse, an autopsy found.
Carrión broke down in tears while discussing Zymere's death during a City Council oversight hearing.
"Losing a child is unbearable. And it's my responsibility. And one that I take seriously," said Carrión.
De Blasio vowed to make changes at ACS after Zymere's death, such as increasing the number of NYPD and child services personnel who jointly investigate suspected cases of serious abuse and approving the closure of all cases involving serious physical abuse by social services organizations that ACS contracts with.
Jaden died earlier this month at Coney Island Hospital, six days after he was found with a fractured skull and lying in feces in the home he shared with his mom and her boyfriend.
ACS officials received a call on Nov. 26 about a boy being held in a dog cage, but the caller gave the address of the apartment next door. ACS workers rang the wrong doorbell and left after finding no leads. By the time someone alerted investigators of the proper address, it was too late.
De Blasio said ACS workers tried hard to find Jaden and followed procedure, but law enforcement sources questioned why police were not called given the history of domestic violence by the boyfriend of Jaden's mother.
After Zymere's death, Public Advocate Letitia James said Carrión was doing a "poor job" and that changes needed to be made at ACS.
"ACS is fundamentally broken and its current commissioner has failed to fix it," James said after de Blasio called her criticism of Carrión "dead wrong."
De Blasio said a search is underway for a new commissioner who is "a passionate reformer who demands results."
Carrión cited several accomplishments at ACS during her tenure, including adding 630 new positions, increased preventative services and the ACS Workforce Institute which provides child welfare training to frontline staff in conjunction with the City University of New York.
"ACS is a very different agency than it was when I arrived in 2014. Your investment of over $110 million into ACS has allowed us to undertake unprecedented reforms," Carrión wrote in her resignation letter.
But critics say it wasn't enough. In multiple statements, city officials thanked Carrión for her service and praised her dedication but stressed that the agency was still in desperate need of reform.
“The mission to reform ACS is one we can’t afford to fail. Our children’s welfare depends on it," said James who thanked Carrión but said there is a need to "step up efforts" to "reform" ACS.
An August report on ACS from James' office said the agency should better supervise its contracted workers and provide enhanced supervision and training for caseworkers.
"I have spoken with the de Blasio Administration about the urgent need for reforms and called for substantive changes that include splitting the responsibilities of ACS into different agencies; implementing rigorous oversight over contract agencies; adequately training and supervising caseworkers; and providing deeper ongoing supports to children in foster care or child preventative services," said James.
Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a report in June that found that ACS did a poor job of following up on allegations of abuse. After Zymere's death he launched another audit to see if his recommendations were implemented.
"It’s clear our City is failing our most vulnerable children," said Stringer who called Carrión "a dedicated public servant who has spent her life caring about children."
But the problems with ACS start with the de Blasio administration, he said.
"City Hall must breakdown agency silos and put forward a clear, transparent plan for reform. Commissioners come and go, but fundamental change must be here to stay," Stringer added.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, and General Welfare Committee Chair Stephen Levin, said ACS still needs reform.
"In light of recent tragedies, it is clear that ACS must fully commit to working with the City Council to enact needed reforms to save lives and better protect families," they wrote in a joint statement.