NEW YORK — Six years after the tragic death of Nixzmary Brown, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a former Brooklyn councilman, has released a report reviewing dozens of recent child deaths.
“Lessons from Tragedy” reviews 75 child fatality reports issued by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services in 2011 with the goal of identifying continuing risk factors and areas of focus to better protect children. As was the case leading up to Nixzmary’s death, the report found that multiple prior reports of abuse and neglect were common in these families, with more than 15 prior reports received by the Administration for Children’s Services in some cases.
De Blasio, a Park Slope resident, is recommending new measures to reassess families with a significant number of such reports so that authorities can intervene earlier to prevent tragedy.
“Six years ago, we said to ourselves, ‘Never again.’ There has been tremendous progress since we came together as a city in the wake of Nixzmary’s tragic death, but children continue to fall through the cracks. Few of these cases ever made the headlines, but every one of them must be a call to arms for our city. We must close the gaps in our system that cost children their lives,” said de Blasio.
The review encompasses 75 child fatality reports released between January and December 2011. The review found:
• Fatalities often occur following multiple reports of abuse or neglect. Deaths occurred in families with, on average, more than five reports; four families had over 15 accounts.
• Many mothers had a history of engagement with the child welfare system themselves as children. Forty-four percent had contact as a child, and nine mothers had themselves spent time in the foster care system.
• Despite sustained education efforts, unsafe sleeping arrangements continue to lead to premature deaths. Practices such as co-sleeping with an adult were involved in 29 percent of fatalities for children under the age of one.
• Lack of stable housing is common among these families. Twenty-eight percent of child fatalities occurred in families with a history of homelessness or poor housing conditions. The record number of families living in shelters, including nearly 17,000 children as of December 2011, must be addressed.
De Blasio urged the Administration for Children’s Service (ACS) and other city agencies to take the following steps:
• Implement a system at ACS that triggers comprehensive assessment of cases involving multiple reports of abuse or neglect by an internal review team. De Blasio is pursuing City Council legislation to establish a “High-Risk Review Panel” composed of outside experts to study a portion of these cases with the goal of developing recommendations for the rest of ACS’s high-risk caseload.
• Broaden outreach on safe infant sleeping arrangements by enlisting pediatricians, community health providers and other community leaders to convince parents to adopt sleeping practices that reduce the risk of injury and death.
• ACS and the Department of Homeless Services should jointly review the demographic profiles of families in shelters to identify those facing multiple risks — in particular families with a history of multiple prior contacts with the child welfare system.