Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz needed to respond forcefully to the deaths of children who were under – or should have been under – the supervision of county Child Protective Services. The evidence of mismanagement was both glaring and tragic.
To his credit, Poloncarz has acted, proposing a package of legislative reforms to deal with child abuse issues. We’re not sure he presented them in the most effective way possible, but perhaps that won’t make a large difference in how state lawmakers review the proposals.
Poloncarz unveiled his package of 19 proposed reforms this week, and acknowledged what must be a painful truth: “The worst days of my administration were on the days of the death of a child.” And he followed up with an indictment of the status quo: “Right now we have a system that is stacked against children and stacked against CPS workers.”
In response, his proposals would create new offenses, include even a single incident of “excessive” corporal punishment in the definition of neglect, improve training for professionals who are required to report suspicions of child abuse and many other actions, all of which look plausible, at least upon initial presentation.
It would have been better if the county executive had first rallied state lawmakers to his proposals, rather than forwarding them with the comment that “All the senators and Assembly members need to do is put their names on these.”
It’s not the finest brand of politics, instructing the legislators whose help you need that their diligence isn’t required. Fortunately, two Buffalo Democrats who have been active on this issue – Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Tim Kennedy – said they look forward to reviewing the proposals. We presume they won’t allow Poloncarz’s blunt approach to color their evaluation of the materials, since they deal with issues of life and death.
Ten-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud of Buffalo was murdered by his stepfather in 2012, bludgeoned more than 70 times with a baker’s rolling pin. In 2013, 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks of Buffalo was killed, allegedly by his mother’s boyfriend. In both cases, CPS had prior involvement with the families of the boys.
Shortly after, the state Office of Children and Family Services issued a scathing report, detailing lapses by CPS caseworkers. In response, Poloncarz took steps that improved the performance of the department, as the state acknowledged.
Now it’s time for state lawmakers to review Poloncarz’s proposals.
We would add that while a degree of privacy is necessary in dealing with these cases, the resulting lack of transparency contributes to a dysfunctional system that puts children’s lives on the line. To save those children, taxpayers should know more about what is going on behind those closed doors.