Thursday, March 24, 2011

New York child welfare workers held accountable in child’s death

According to media sources, two former child welfare workers were indicted yesterday in the death of a 4 year-old Brooklyn girl who was starved, beaten and drugged.

This is the first such prosecution in city history thanks to Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes.

If ACS caseworker Damon Adams did his job and visited Marchella Brett-Pierce in her Bedford-Stuyvesant home, she might be alive today. Instead records indicate that he did not visit the home, but did falsify records after the girl died weighing just 18 pounds. Chereece Bell, 34, the caseworker's direct supervisor, was charged with failing to monitor his work.

Yesterday Judge Patricia DiMango told news sources: "To say there was no failure here would just defy logic and common sense."

Adams and Bell pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally negligent homicide, official misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child.

Bell's bail was set at $25,000. Adams, who was charged with additional tampering and falsifying records, was ordered held on $35,000 bail.

Caseworkers first became involved with the Brett-Pierce family in November 2009 when Marchella's youngest brother was born with illegal drugs in his system.

Prosecutors said caseworker Adams was supposed to make biweekly visits to the home. He only made two entries in the agency's computer records between March and September which included a phone call with a source involved in the hospital incident and an attempt to visit the home in June. Six days afterwards Marchella died. Adams then posted bogus entries saying he visited the home in March, April, June and August, prosecutors said.

"His failure to make the visits is what ultimately led to her death," Kagan said.

The two ACS workers resigned a month after Marchella was found dead.

Prosecutor Jacqueline Kagan said "This child was wasting away. Had the ACS workers done their job, "this child would have been removed" from the home.”

Marchella's grandmother Loretta Brett, 56, was also indicted Wednesday, pleading not guilty to second-degree manslaughter.

According to prosecutors, Brett slept in the same room as the child night after night as she lay tied in her bed with no food and the grandmother never reported the suspected abuse.

The innocent 4 year-old was beaten, starved, bound to her bed and forced to take multiple doses of Benadryl and other adult medication between July and September.

She died severely malnourished on September 2nd – similar to the horrific abuse and death of Nixzmary Brown in 2006.

Marchella's mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, 30, was charged in November with second-degree murder and is awaiting trial.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes vowed to investigate whether the city agency followed recommendations it implemented after Nixzmary's death.

Hynes said: "We're going to find at long last what they're doing at ACS so there are no more children fatalities. “

Faye Moore, the head of the Social Service Employees Union, said ACS layoffs and program cuts have overburdened workers. Frankly we’ve been hearing that tired excuse for years. And it’s not just Marchella who died because of ACS failures. ACS has been linked to at least four other child abuse tragedies.

In a statement, ACS said the indictments "may have the opposite effect from what's intended because it may discourage excellent, idealistic individuals from taking" jobs as social workers.

This is not true. First … ACS doesn’t hire just social workers as caseworkers. This reporter saw an ad in the NY Times a few years ago. ACS was looking for caseworkers and the ad read that all one needed was a college degree. They did not have to be a social worker. And while shopping in Bloomingdales this reporter overheard a salesperson saying she was going for an interview to ACS. When this reporter questioned the salesperson about the interview she had just graduated from college with a degree in fine arts and had no work experience other than being a salesperson.

Kudos to District Attorney Charles Hynes for arresting these caseworkers. Our children deserve to live in happy, healthy and safe homes. If their parents are abusive and neglectful than we need a system that will protect them at all costs!

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Let’s start protecting our kids instead of protecting the people who are supposed to be protecting them!