Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Caseworkers Miss Opportunities to Protect Malnourished 4-Year-Old
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
A report by the Administration for Children's Services reveals that caseworkers charged with monitoring a 4-year-old Brooklyn girl failed to visit her family often enough and missed several signs that something was wrong in the troubled home.
According the report, Marchella Pierce was seriously underweight, her home care was grossly inadequate and she had been tied down for substantial periods of time. The fragile child was also hit by a video box as a form of punishment.
Marchella died on September 2. Her mother is currently being charged with assault and more serious charges are possible. The Medical Examiner still has not determined the cause of the child's death.
The Child Development Support Corporation, a Brooklyn non-profit, was supposed to be monitoring Carlotta Brett-Pierce for ACS, but didn't tell the city agency that she continued to test positive for drugs and had threatened program staff at a drug treatment program she was supposed to be attending. On top of that, the report says that because the mother had not reached sobriety, the family should have been visited two to three times per week. During the month of May, the caseworker did not visit at all.
But the child was not soley the responsibility of the non-profit. During a City Council hearing, ACS acknowledged that neither the non-profit nor the ACS worker overseeing the case sounded the alarm when they learned Marchella, a medically fragile child with a feeding tube and tracheal tube was about to be released from a hospital to a mother still abusing drugs. Commissioner John Mattingly was grilled by Councilwoman Tish James who asked, "Since you knew the child was coming home why was there no follow up on your part?" He responded, "I've explained to you that was a lost opportunity."
James hounded the commissioner about placing too much of the blame on the Brooklyn non-profit, but Mattingly quickly countered the agency had done nothing of the sort pointing out that an ACS caseworker and a supervisor have been suspended without pay for failing to follow up with the child in June once the non-profit lost its contract. According to the report, there were no recorded visits from June 9 until the child died three months later. A caseworker came forward after the child's death to say visits were made just not written down. During the City Council hearing, Mattingly said "Not recording contacts is a serious issue. Not making them is inexcusable."
But even before ACS took over the case in June, caseworkers had another opportunity to intervene in March when a hospital worker notified them that Marchella Pierce's mother was having problems with the child's tracheal tube. An investigator did show up on the night the report came in and noted that while the children seemed fine, the mother was hostile and should be evaluated on her ability to care for a special needs child, but nothing was ever done.
As a result of the botched case, ACS and the state agency that oversees it will be reviewing hundreds of cases that fall into certain categories to make sure they were handled properly.
Marcia Rowe-Riddick, the director of the Brooklyn non-profit called out for its mistakes, said the report was incomplete and disingenous. Rowe-Riddick blamed the agency for not interviewing any of her staff before publishing the damning report. "If they are agoing to do a proper investigation and we are part of it then you should be talking to the agency", she said.