Two new bills would help prevent tragedies like Zymere Perkins and Mikey Guzman
In light of two recent high-profile deaths attributed to negligence by the New York City’s Administration of Child Services, Zymere Perkins 6, and Michael Guzman 5, Mayor Bill de Blasio faced push back from state lawmakers at a recent budget hearing on funding for local government.
A sizable portion of that resistance came from Senator Catharine Young, chair of the Finance Committee, who expressed dissatisfaction and concern over the city’s management of ACS.
Young prefaced her questioning by reading off some recently derived statistics on ACS.
“In 22 percent of the cases, the agency didn’t make face-to-face contact within 24 hours,” Young said. “And in 26 percent of cases the ACS investigator did not meet with the child the required amount of times.”
Young then questioned de Blasio about why his administration didn’t utilize last year’s budget increase to improve the performance of ACS.
De Blasio responded to Young by saying he respectfully disagreed with her statements.
“The vast majority of caseworkers in the child welfare system do their work well,” de Blasio said. “Facts are being unfairly represented by the media.”
The statistics Young cited came from an audit by New York City’s Comptroller Scott Stringer that took place in December. Stinger’s audit unearthed a slew of concerns.
At the Albany hearing, Young brought up the case of six-year-old Zymere Perkins, who was allegedly consistently abused by his mother and her boyfriend and beaten to death on Sept. 26. ACS had launched five investigations of Zymere’s mother, Geraldine Perkins, regarding Zymere.
ACS had received multiple calls, some anonymous, claiming that Rysheim Smith, Geraldine’s boyfriend, had been excessively beating Zymere in public.
During the investigations, Zymere reportedly informed his case worker of the cruel punishments Smith would inflict and the severe beatings he received. However his case worker allegedly did not follow up on these claims. “There was no effort made to conduct a full body check of the child after he made the disclosure he was hit,” a state report on the case said.
Cases like Zymere’s have resulted in the state Senate taking it upon themselves to help reform child abuse protection.
On Tuesday Jan. 24, the state Senate passed two bills meant to help victims of child abuse who manage to slip through the cracks of the system like Zymere Perkins did.
Bill S.137, sponsored by Senator Betty Little, would ensue mandatory drug testing for a child under the age of 3 who was in the vicinity of a drug arrest of a parent or caregiver. The legislation would ensure that when a person legally responsible for a child is arrested for a controlled substance, there will also be an investigation to determine that any infants or toddlers in the household are drug free.
If necessary, child protective services may obtain a court order for the purpose of testing the child. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Felix Ortiz.
The bill known as, “Kayleigh Mae’s law,” is named to commemorate Kayleigh Mae who died at 13 months of age after being given heroin and cocaine for 10 months after her birth.
“My hope is we can prevent similar tragedies by requiring a simple test,” Little said.
Bill S.3146, sponsored by Senator Martin Golden establishes a limit of no more than 15 cases per month per full-time ACS caseworker. This proposal stems from a 2006 Office of Children and Family Services study that demonstrated the benefits of lighter caseloads. That bill is being sponsored in the Assembly by Donna Lupardo.
“The recent death of Michael Guzman of Queens further highlights the need to place a limit on the number of cases assigned to a child protective service investigator,” Golden said in a statement.
ACS had opened 13 investigations into Michael Guzman’s family between October 2008 and January 2016, according to multiple reports. Four of those 13 cases centered on Michael, while the other 11 cases pertained to Michael’s five siblings.
The investigations revealed bruises on the kids, lack of supervision, and sexual abuse. Yet despite these red flags the city never made an effort to remove any of the kids from the home of parents Phyllis Reinoso, 29, and Michael Guzman, 34. Despite the numerous warning signs ACS never made an attempt to separate any of the children from Reinoso, and Guzman’s household.
On January 22, Reinoso said she found her son dead around 2:30 a.m. upon returning from an outing with Michael’s dad.
Young concluded her round of questioning by asking why ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion has not stepped down, even though she officially resigned on December 12.
De Blasio responded by saying Carrion has done good work considering the enormous workload. He then went on to say that she will be stepping down soon and will likely be replaced by late February to early March.