MANHATTAN (CN) — The child-protective services agency in New York City faces its second audit in four months after the death of a 6-year-old boy whose family was routinely investigated over abuse claims.
Comptroller Scott Stringer called for the investigation Saturday just days after 6-year-old Zymere Perkins was beaten to death in Harlem.
Authorities believe that the boy's mother, Geraldine Perkins, did nothing over the past year to stop her boyfriend, Rysheim Smith, from subjecting her son to increasing violence.
Zymere died on Sept. 26 after he was beaten with a broomstick, drenched in cold water and hung by his shirt from a hook on a bathroom door in the family's apartment.
The killing came four months after an audit by the city comptroller's office found that shoddy investigations by the Administration for Children's Services were putting the city's youth at risk.
ACS took umbrage with the comptroller's June report, claiming the 25 cases reviewed — out of 60,000 ACS investigations and 80,000 children served — made for a "minute sample size." It noted that a "statistically significant review of child safety measures ... shows that the five counties of NYC routinely rank near the very safest" in the state.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called for a new audit Saturday to study whether ACS has acted on any of the reforms to which it committed in June.
"This new probe will once again shed a light on an agency that for too long operated in the shadows and left our children vulnerable to abuse," Stringer said in a statement.
Authorities say Smith beat Zymere for defecating in an ice bucket. After Smith left the house, Perkins allegedly removed her son's body from the bathroom hook, laid him on a bed and read the bible.
By the time she took him to the hospital, Zymere had been dead for hours.
Authorities say the child's body was covered in bruises, old and new, caused by fists and objects, like broomsticks and baseball bats.
Issuing a statement about the new audit it faces, ACS said it "is prioritizing the thorough review of the death of Zymere Perkins to determine whether there were practice gaps and who should be held accountable."
Pending this internal review, those involved in the Perkins case have been put on "modified duties," the agency added.
"Like the rest of the city, ACS is devastated by this tragedy," the statement says.
The New York Daily News reported that ACS had investigated Perkins five times for various allegations of child abuse.
Perkins, 26, and Smith, 42, were arranged Wednesday in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of endangering the welfare of a child. They were ordered held on $50,000 bail.
Stringer said 30 children have died under the watch of ACS since 2005.
"This week, our city tragically lost another child — months after the ACS pledged to enact critical reforms," Stringer said. "This death highlights the precarious situation at this agency, and underscores the need for immediate improvement.
The reforms ACS pledged to adopted in June included having agency managers conduct and complete case reviews in a timely manner; properly investigate complaints of abuse; and convey policies and procedures to staff in a timely manner.
"The bottom line of this investigation is simple," he added. "ACS made promises, and New Yorkers deserve to know if they've made progress. With children's lives on the line, we cannot wait another day for this agency to make fundamental reforms."
ACS said it has been committed to the reforms for which the first report called. So far this year, ACS has already increased staff reports and hired 300 child-protective specialists. An additional 175 are scheduled to start this fall.
The agency also opened two new offices in the Bronx and Brooklyn, which "handle the largest number of child protection cases" in the five boroughs.
And the agency has directed $12 million into what it's calling a Workforce Institute to train over 5,000 "front-line" child-welfare staff across the city. So far, they've provided training to 4,593 professions, the agency says.
ACS caseworkers never have more than 15 investigations in their caseloads, according to the agency's statement.
With 9.2 cases per CPS worker, it has the lowest child-protective caseloads in the United States, ACS said. The agency also asserted that up to 96 percent of NYC's safety assessments are timely, compared with less-timely case investigations performed in other New York counties, like Albany, Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Nevertheless the agency has hired an outside firm to study ACS polices, based on "selected data," and review case records.
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