Mayor de Blasio came to the defense of his embattled Administration for Children's Services (ACS) commissioner on Wednesday, while announcing ACS reform measures in the wake of the death of six-year-old Zymere Perkins. Perkins died last week, allegedly at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, despite five prior reports of abuse. Yesterday, ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion told reporters, "We can't protect them all"—a quote that ran on the front page of today's Daily News.
"The mission is to save every child. Period," said de Blasio, who appeared with Carrion and Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Herminia Palacio. "We know the system failed. That's what we have to get at here.... Anyone who works for the city of New York who is found to be negligent in this case will face serious consequences."
Last Monday, Geraldine Perkins, 26, took her son from her West 135th Street apartment to St. Luke's hospital, where he was pronounced dead. She told investigators that her boyfriend, Rysheim Smith, 42, had beaten Zymere with a wooden broomstick after the boy defecated in an ice bucket. Smith than allegedly hung a limp Zymere by his T-shirt from a bathroom door hook. After Smith left the apartment, Perkins said she laid the unresponsive boy on a bed and then went to read the Bible before realizing her son was dead hours later.
Zymere Perkins (via Facebook).
Perkins had been investigated for child abuse five times previously, including three times over the past 15 months, according to the Daily News. Her Harlem apartment was reportedly covered in mold and infested with roaches, and she had failed to register Zymere for school this year. Perkins and Smith were both charged with endangerment of a child, with more charges likely to come after Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance completes his investigation.
Citing the ongoing investigation, de Blasio refused to comment on the specifics of the case.
"There will come a point, and that point is not to far in the future, where we will will be able to fill in the blanks," de Blasio said.
While de Blasio said that Palacio would lead a full investigation of all involved agencies to determine how Perkins was allowed to remain with his alleged killer, Carrion announced immediate changes at the ACS. These include ensuring that NYPD and ACS will jointly investigate children; making sure ACS reviews all child welfare decisions made by contracted partners; and assembling a review team to hold child protective staff accountable, perform audits and conduct case reviews. Carrion also said that ACS would work with the Department of Education to establish guidelines that would trigger investigations after a series of school absences.
"From the very first day I started as commissioner I charged my agency and all my partners to treat every child we work with as if it is their own child," Carrion said. "These children are no different than our own."
On Friday, Palacio announced that five ACS staff had been placed on administrative duty while the case was investigated. While the names of those staff have not been released, the Daily News, citing unnamed sources, has reported that Nitza Sutton, 48, a caseworker involved with Zymere's case, had been the subject of a Department of Investigations (DOI) probe for falsifying records. In spite of the investigation, she was promoted a few months ago, the Daily News reported. The outcome of the investigation is not known.
What is known is the DOI released a report in May of this year that faulted ACS for lax investigations and incomplete record keeping. Palacio said ACS had implemented, or was in the process of implementing, four of the five recommendations from the DOI report. In June, City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report criticizing the ACS's juvenile delinquents program, which included six recommendations. Palacio said ACS was finishing implementing five of those recommendations as well.
Perkins's death comes two years after the death of 4-year-oldMyls Dobson, which prompted a set of nine recommendations for ACS, all of which have been implemented, except for two that are still in the process of being implemented with the cooperation of state organizations.
De Blasio emphasized the difficult nature of ACS's work and said his administration had increased funding to ACS and implemented a training academy in coordination with CUNY. The mayor also said the size of the average caseworker's caseload had fallen under his administration and remained below the New York state average.
Still De Blasio insisted that more needed to be done.
"It's unacceptable to me," De Blasio said of Perkins's death. "It makes me extraordinarily angry."