The city and state released the results of their parallel investigations into the killing of six-year-old Zymere Perkins of Harlem, which led to the city firing three Administration for Children’s Services employees and prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to require Mayor Bill de Blasio appoint an independent monitor to probe the agency.
Both reports—released a day after ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión announced that she was resigning for supposedly personal reasons—stated that there had been five separation allegations of abuse against the family between June 2010 and April 18 of this year. Three that came in the 15 months prior to his death were corroborated and another two—dated June 22, 2010 and April 18, 2016—determined unfounded.
The mayor and ACS said that Carrión will stay in her position until a replacement is found, and have touted the reforms they say she has put in place throughout her three years on the job.
In its report, the state Office of Children and Family Services said that the city agency must hire an external, OCFS-approved monitor by Jan. 28, 2017 to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the agency’s Child Protective and Preventive services programs.
When Public Advocate Letitia James called for an independent monitor specifically for foster care earlier this year, de Blasio’s administration had resisted that notion. James’ office countered that most foster care children had child preventative services cases so a monitor would oversee a lot of work in both divisions.
The monitor would be required to issue monthly reports to OCFS and ACS.
The state agency also directed ACS to conduct a full evaluation of caseworkers, case supervisors and borough managers in the Manhattan Field Office to examine competencies, strengths and weaknesses as well as take whatever necessary action to respond to any identified issues.
“Following the death of Zymere Perkins in September, Governor Cuomo directed OCFS to investigate ACS’ compliance with regulations and policies in the case,” the state agency said in a statement. “On December 1, those findings were presented to ACS and mandated that ACS appoint an independent monitor approved by OCFS. Today, the mayor accepted that condition in responding to our findings.”
De Blasio revealed the city would appoint an independent monitor at a press conference this afternoon. But he only disclosed that, in the transition period following Carrión’s departure, the city would name an independent monitor and cooperate with OCFS to implement it.
He did not mention that the state had shared its findings with the city a week and a half before, and mandated the independent monitor. This follows a pattern of secretive behavior on de Blasio’s part, both in general and in the Perkins case in particular.
His press secretary, Eric Phillips, confirmed on Twitter in a series of exchanges with reporters that the city can pick the monitor but that OCFS has to approve it. He first said that it was a state recommendation that they appoint a monitor but then said that the city disagrees that it is a required action.
The city also moved to suspend and demote another six employees who the mayor says “should have shown better judgment.” The mayor said that the report revealed “a troubling series of lapses and missed opportunities” in the agency’s “failed effort” to protect Zymere.
“Procedures were not followed, common sense was not exercised, and due diligence was lacking up and down the chain of command responsible for Zymere,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I will not accept excuses for this failure and will not accept the notion that every single one of these tragedies cannot be prevented. The buck stops with me.”
Before Zymere died, there were repeated allegations of parental substance abuse, fractures inflicted, excessive corporal punishment and inadequate guardianship of Zymere by his mother and her boyfriend, according to the OCFS report.
OCFS said that a review of prior reports indicated that ACS did not conduct thorough investigations or follow regulatory standards and that there were specific points when timely and appropriate intervention could have assisted the family’s functioning.
“There were many deficiencies noted by OCFS throughout all of the ACS investigations,” the report stated. “These included interviews of poor quality, failure to correctly assess the family functioning as it related to possible domestic violence and mental health issues, lack of cross systems collaboration, significant lapses in the investigative process, failure to contact collateral sources, and lack of direction and guidance from supervisors.”
The state agency also said that it is possible that Zymere had been dead for about 17 hours before his arrival to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Hospital.
And according to the report prepared by Carrión, throughout the two-year investigative history prior to Perkins’ death, ACS child protective specialists failed to completely and thoroughly investigate issues concerning Perkins’ welfare.
Specialists failed to locate or contact Zymere’s family members, further investigate signs of domestic violence, attach sufficient importance to his mother’s ability to care for him in the investigative process or seek medical examinations for Zymere despite allegations of physical abuse. They also neglected to directly contact relevant medical and mental health providers as well as obtain appropriate releases to obtain records, the report said.
OFCS called Perkins’ killing an “unacceptable tragedy.”
“The safety of New York City children is ACS’s number one priority and we strive for the highest level of professionalism,” the report stated. “We are working diligently to address the lapses identified in this case, both within the agency and at our contracted providers, and make the essential reforms and improvements required to prevent the lapses and failures that can lead to tragedy.”
In the report, ACS stated that it confirmed with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance that publicly releasing the above information would not compromise the prosecutor’s ongoing probe of his mother and her paramour. But the agency said that it continues to abide by Cyrus’s request that it refrain from conducting interviews.