Two child fatalities in Erie County – the slayings of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks in September and 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud last year – have prompted the Assembly to schedule a public hearing in Buffalo to examine the practices of Erie County Child Protective Services.
The Assembly’s Committee on Children and Families and the Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation will hold the hearing at 10 a.m. Nov. 14 in Common Council Chambers in City Hall, Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said Tuesday.
“As New York State Children and Family Services is the regulatory authority charged with ensuring that the welfare of our children is protected, it is our responsibility to make sure that they are receiving the best care and services,” Peoples-Stokes said.
“There are far too many children dying at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting them. It is time for us to look into how we can do better, so that the needs of voiceless can be heard.”
Before Eain was killed, his relatives said, they repeatedly contacted CPS and the state’s child-abuse telephone hotline in Albany out of concern for the boy, who had marks on his body they believed were caused by Matthew W. Kuzdzal, the live-in boyfriend of Eain’s mother, Nora D. Brooks.
Kuzdzal, 26, of Buffalo, has been charged with second-degree murder in the child’s beating death.
Abdifatah, known as Abdi, was killed in April 2012, a year after he had called 911 two times saying it was a matter of life and death regarding the treatment he was receiving from his stepfather. Police notified CPS, and an investigation was conducted, but the boy was not removed from the family’s home.
Ali-Mohamed Mohamud, the stepfather, is now serving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for beating Abdi more than 70 times over the head with a baker’s rolling pin in the family’s East Side home.
Robin Hart, Eain’s maternal grandmother, expressed gratitude that the hearing has been scheduled and urged state officials to publicize it so that it will be well-attended.
“The hearing needs to be held. I’ve been saying it all along. The system needs to be changed,” Hart said. “When you call the 1-800 number, they talk to you and they don’t tell you if they will accept your complaint or give you a tracking number to see if anything is done.”
The present system of only one CPS caseworker conducting an investigation, she said, does not work. “They shouldn’t send just one caseworker out to make the decision if the child is being abused or not,” Hart said. “Obviously, one person’s opinion can cost a child’s life, as it has in my grandson’s case. Back in March, I told the caseworker: ‘What was it going to take to do something, Eain getting killed?’ ”
A number of notices will be going out to alert the public about the hearing, state officials said.
Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, D-Binghamton, chairwoman of the Children and Families Committee; and Assemblyman Andrew D. Hevesi, D-Forest Hills, chairman of the Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Committee, issued a joint statement on why the hearing is necessary:
“Over the last several years, there has been a series of child fatalities in Erie County in which the children had CPS involvement. Considerable attention has been given to whether the deaths could have been prevented, and whether children continue to be at risk.
“The purpose of this hearing is to examine current Erie County CPS practices. The committees are also interested to see what improvements can be made to the current practices and whether changes in state law are necessary to improve CPS in Erie County and statewide.”
Soon after Eain’s death, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s administration responded by firing two caseworkers and disciplining their supervisors.
State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who has met with Eain’s family, said the hearing is the next step in shedding light on “problems and challenges” facing Child Protective Services here and across the state. “In Eain’s case and in the case of Abdifatah and possibly others, the system failed. We cannot let it happen again,” Kennedy said. “The system needs reform, and the next step is the public hearing.”
People who want to testify at the hearing are asked to fill out a form that is available online at http://assembly.state.ny.us/comm/Children/20131101/ and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org; fax it to (518) 455-4693; or mail it to Alexis Conti, committee assistant, Assembly Committee on Children and Families, Room 442, State Capitol, Albany, NY 12248.
The form should be returned as soon as possible.
Those speaking at the hearing will be given 10 minutes each. They are asked to bring 10 copies of any prepared testimony, which should be submitted at the hearing registration desk.