Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed this morning that if people want an example of “fake news,” they can find it in the form of rumored 2017 mayoral candidate Comptroller Scott Stringer’s report yesterday indicating that the Administration for Children’s Services violated its own protocols in roughly 2,360 high-priority investigations—and accused him of conspiring with the New York Post to make it happen.
After reviewing nearly 3,700 major investigations ACS conducted on complaints received during a three-month period between July and September, Stringer found that the agency flouted its own procedures a stunning 73 percent of the time. His office, which leaked the findings to the Post early, found those investigations involved either a child’s death, at least four prior complaints of abuse or neglect in a child’s household, or both.
But in his weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC this morning the mayor, who said he was holding up a copy of yesterday’s Post, noted that the story had “this screaming headline” and stressed that the first paragraph said “these things happen ‘in the weeks leading up to the slaying of little Zymere Perkins.” He stressed that Perkins’ death was an “absolute tragedy” and that employees involved in the case were either disciplined, fired or demoted—and he said the city will be “relentless about changing anything we need to change in that agency.”
“Here’s what’s wrong with Scott Stringer’s letter: it is blatantly inaccurate, blatantly inaccurate,” de Blasio told host Brian Lehrer. “What he did—Scott Stringer teamed up with the New York Post to create fake news. We’ve been talking about fake news a lot lately, here’s a real example.”
The comptroller’s office found that nearly three-quarters of the closed ACS probes lacked the required minimum number of manager’s reviews, while 32 percent did not have the mandated number of supervisor’s reviews. And in 68 percent—or 2,516 cases—of both open and closed high-priority ACS investigations, a Risk Assessment Profile was not completed within 40 days.
Stringer also said that 53 investigations were closed without ACS investigators ever meeting with the child who was allegedly abused, that investigators did not meet with the children within 24 hours of an abuse allegation in 22 percent of the investigations and that in 26 percent of inquiries, investigators did not meet with the child the mandated number of times.
This comes ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión announced her resignation for supposedly personal reasons and subsequent parallel reports from the city and the state were released a day after —finding that there were five separate allegations of abuse against the family between June 2010 and April 18 of this year. The state Office of Children and Family Services ordered the city agency to hire an external monitor by January 28, 2017 to do a comprehensive assessment of the agency’s Child Protective and Preventive services programs.
The mayor’s office and ACS contested these findings, noting a number of the cases dated to before 2014, when de Blasio assumed Gracie Mansion.
The comptroller has butted heads with the mayor over a number of issues, including the city’s minority- and women-owned business and enterprise program, affordable housing, homelessness and even the mayor’s Computer Science for All initiative. He is said to be weighing a run for mayor in next year’s Democratic primary, spurred on by deep-pocketed anti-de Blasio groups and news that grand juries are weighing charges against top figures at City Hall.
And the mayor has clashed with the Post before as well, once refusing to take questions from its bureau chief.
Stringer’s spokesman, Tyrone Stevens, said that based on the data ACS submitted of 3,700 high-priority abuse cases, the comptroller’s preliminary findings determined that 70 percent of closed ACS investigations were not properly reviewed, dozens of investigations ended without ACS ever meeting with the child and that repeatedly, potentially abused children waited more than 24 hours to meet with anyone from the agency.
“If ACS wants to provide additional data to demonstrate this did not occur or that there were 33 cases that ended in the loss of a child instead of 38, that’s still 33 too many,” Stevens said in an emailed statement. “For the Mayor to characterize the review of 3,700 high priority abuse cases as ‘fake news’ is simply outrageous.”
ACS reiterated that the report identifies 38 fatalities in cases closed in the summer of 2016 but that the data ACS provided to Stringer reflects a total of 33 fatalities reported to the State Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment, triggering an investigation. The agency said that four of those were deaths that occurred before 2014—some as long as eight years ago—and that in the remaining cases, ACS had no prior history with 15 of the families.
The agency also said that in 14 families known to ACS at some time in the last decade, six had a death related to unsafe sleeping conditions, three had a death due to an illness, one was accidental, one case was a fire and one is a death that may have never occurred but was called in by a hospital social worker. And in two cases, ACS said, the cause of death is still pending.
The mayor’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, said that the city’s reforms and investments are working and child abuse and neglect is on the decline, accusing the comptroller’s office of making contradictory claims.
“The Comptroller is now backtracking on his numbers and methodology, an acknowledgment that they chose to smear our agency rather than tell the public the truth,” Phillips said in an emailed statement. “His report does more to mislead the public than it does to protect children.”
The mayor—who echoed ACS’ explanation of what was wrong in Stringer’s findings—noted that he cares “very deeply” about the subject as a parent and the chairman of the City Council’s General Welfare Committee for eight years when he was a councilman. And he said that over the last five years—which includes former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration—the number of cases that have been substantiated has gone down steadily in the city because of many reforms put in place previously and additional reforms, personnel and training.
De Blasio said Stringer made a “very conscious decision” to work with the New York Post to “create what is a false understanding of what happened here.” And he said that ACS workers deal with anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 cases a year, blasting Stringer for not mentioning that most “do a great job protecting kids.”
“This is just blatantly false and it’s not appropriate, and it doesn’t do a service to anyone,” de Blasio continued. “It denigrates the work of the hardworking people at ACS, who save lives every day and it misinforms the public. It’s not appropriate.”
In addition to the Perkins tragedy, three-year-old Jaden Jordan, died on December 3 shortly after being taken off life support after he was discovered covered in feces and with a cracked skull. ACS had received reports of abuse in the home, but failed to correctly identify and deal with the situation.