Agency issues scathing report about CPS

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has a released a blistering report of inadequacies found at Erie County Child Protective Services (CPS).

The death of 5-year-old Eain Brooks sparked the OCFS, which oversees child welfare services throughout the state, to review CPS. Brooks’ death raised troubling concerns about actions or lack thereof taken by CPS immediately prior to his murder.

Brooks’ grandmother says she called CPS at least 10 times, but nothing was done, even though the family suspected the boyfriend of Brooks’ mother was injuring the boy. Twenty-six-year-old Matthew Kuzdzal is accused of sexually molesting and beating Brooks to death.

By the numbers

After this case came to light, the OCFS moved to review all 894 open CPS cases to determine whether the investigations taking place were being appropriately assessed for safety. The reviewers” findings are startling. Of the 894 cases, 260 or 29 percent were returned to address safety concerns:

  • 75 cases had insufficient information gathered to assess safety factors
  • 15 cases needed further action to address safety factors that placed children in immediate danger of serious harm
  • 170 cases were returned to address risk elements, including the potential for further abuse or maltreatment

All cases received by CPS must undergo an initial safety assessment within the first 24 hours to determine the risk to children. Reviewers found that in 136 cases of all open cases, or 15 percent, that CPS employees did not complete this assessment.

Within seven days of receiving a report, CPS must complete a preliminary safety assessment. In 89 cases, or 10 percent, it was completed after seven days. And in seven cases, or 1 percent, it was never completed.

CPS is also responsible for determining when a child should be placed into foster care. The OCFS found that in two cases, children were not removed from a home when they should have been. In five cases, the caretakers would not reveal the children’s whereabouts. And in 75 cases, or 8 percent, there wasn’t enough information to be able to make a determination regarding foster care.

In addition, 16 percent, or 143 cases, were showed no supervisor had reviewed the files.

Overall themes

The statistics are disturbing enough, but the OCFS says it found several themes throughout there review. They include:

  • CPS workers did the minimum regulatory requirements and moved quickly to close cases. A substantial number of workers prepared to close their cases within 10-15 days after receiving a report.
  • There was minimal compliance with collateral contact requirements. CPS is required to gather information about a case from schools, doctors, family members, or anyone who can provide information about a case.
  • Documentation lacked sufficient detail to support safety assessments and did not present a full view of the child and family circumstances. The OCFS says though in some cases the work is being completed, it is not being properly documented.
  • Despite training from OCFS in early 2013, assessments showed a lack of consistent application in these skills.

And sadly, the OCFS says approximately 72 percent of reports issued to CPS have had prior involvement with child welfare services in the last four years, with 24 percent having five or more previous reports. The OCFS says this indicates that previous reports of abuse and maltreatment were not adequately addressed, resulting in a chronic pattern of additional reports.

Actions taken by CPS and OCFS

The OCFS says CPS will take disciplinary action against those workers and supervisors involved in the cases underlying Brooks’ death. News 4 has learned at least two employees have already been fired. And the Legislature has approved additional hires to lighten the case load per employee.

The OCFS says it will have CPS work with a national expert to help make long-term changes to the organization. The state agency is also reviewing all current 250 cases at CPS prior to allowing them to  be closed.

There are also several recommendations OCFS is making as part of a Corrective Action Plan to address all of the errors found during their review of CPS.

Statement from Erie County Executive

Mark Poloncarz released a statement after the OCFS report was made public. In it, he notes that many of the changes OCFS sought at CPS have already been made, and many of the safety concerns regarding open cases have already been addressed. The County Executive says CPS is “prepared to undertake the next steps and reforms necessary to better protect children.”

The statement also says that the CPS model in NYS is over 40 years old.

“Expecting a contemporary CPS worker to respond to a call and solve an issue immediately is akin to expecting law enforcement to respond to a 911 call and instantly resolve the problem,” Poloncarz says.

He believes it is time for the state to review the provision of CPS statewide to revise outdated policies and procedures and modernize the system.

Reaction from Brooks’ family, advocates

Brooks’ grandmother, Robin Hart, says in the two months since Brooks’ murder, she still can’t bring herself to put his toys away.

“I have nightmares every night,” she said.

Hart repeatedly tried to warn CPS about her daughter’s boyfriend. Now she is feeling some satisfaction that the OCFS has found serious flaws at CPS.

“That’s what I said all along. They didn’t do their job; they didn’t care,” Hart said.

The report took around eight weeks, and in the interim, lawmakers like State Senator Tim Kennedy held forums to listen to the public’s complaints about CPS and brainstorm ways to improve the system. With the report now out, Senator Kennedy says he will make sure Erie County is held accountable, and that the system changes.

“The people they serve are the most vulnerable in our society,” he said. “We are looking forward to getting after it.”

Hart hopes lawmakers do follow through.

“I’m hoping they change [but] I don’t think they’re going to change fast enough,” she said. “I pray every night that they change before another child gets killed.”

Many of the changes the OCFS has outlined for CPS must be implemented by December 21.

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