Mayor de Blasio Commits to Improve NYC Agencies in the Wake of Child Deaths

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May 2, 2014; New York Times

In late April, Migdalia Morales banged on the door of Shannon Nelson, asking if she could watch her children, as she needed to rush her young son to the hospital. Juan, who was lying on the floor nearby, was “turning all kinda colors. He looked bad. Real bad,” reported Shannon’s daughter Nashasia. Juan died a day later, and one of the explanations that his mother offered to detectives was that Juan could have accidentally swallowed rat poison left by exterminators who had recently visited the building. It was reported that Juan took a sip from an open container in the building.

The tragic death of four-year-old Juan Morales points to ongoing issues with two New York City agencies. The building, used as a location to house the homeless, had chosen a highly toxic poison as its preferred way to treat the rat issue in the building, which has some questioning the Department of Homeless Services. Additionally, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) had a long relationship with Ms. Morales, and local police stated that ACS had “repeatedly contacted Ms. Morales for failing to send her children to school and for not adequately supervising them.”

ACS has had a string of public challenges as of late. After the hiring of Gladys Carrión, who was the commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a series of measures to “close some of the gaps and improve communication between the criminal justice system and the agency charged with preventing child abuse” in response to the death in January of this year of another four-year-old boy, Myls Dobson, who was under a babysitter’s care. Just a month later, young Kevasia Edwards was found dead with her ribs cracked and her teeth dislodged, according to prosecutors who charged her mother, Ashley Diaz, with second-degree murder and first-degree assault. Ms. Diaz also had a long history with ACS, and during the span of Kevasia’s short two years of life, her children had been removed from her home and then placed back with her.

Mayor de Blasio’s administration is aiming to get underneath this mess. His deputy mayor for health and human services, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, stated Thursday that the Department of Homeless Services would “initiate a full review of protocols, policies and procedures related to ensuring the safety of children in shelters.” ACS, after the death of Kevasia, stated that there would be a “much deeper review of [their] policies and practices.”—John Brothers