BUFFALO, NY - A state agency, which overseas Erie County Child Protective Services (CPS), is out with the first phase of its review of that agency.
The review and report by the state Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) was prompted by the abuse-related deaths of two young boys within a 17 month period, which in the eyes of the state "raised troubling concerns about the casework practice performed by Erie County child protective caseworkers and supervisors."
The report does not include investigations of those specific children, who had been the subjects of prior CPS reports, but who later died at the hands of abusers according to police.
Part One of that review -a safety assessment on all open CPS cases to establish that proper protections are in place to safeguard the children involved - was released late today.
The report,which you can view in its entirety by clicking here, reviewed all currently open cases (894 in total) and identifies a number of themes, which show several areas needing improvement.
Those include findings of minimum compliance with regulatory requirements rather than thorough and complete assessments of families and children, and that caseworkers make the minimum required contacts and visits, and then move quickly to close cases.
As well, the report noted a pattern of minimal compliance with attempts to reach out to collateral contacts as required, such as such as schools, doctors, or others who could provide meaningful information about the child and family, to determine if a child was at risk or in danger.
"Sending a fax to a doctor or a teacher rather than picking up the phone and calling them is unacceptable," said NYS Senator Tim Kennedy (D 64th District) who has been among the loudest voices calling for the state to investigate. "That clearly won't convey a full picture of a child's situation or potential risk," he said.
In a statement, the administration of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted, " the report found CPS in compliance with OCFS requirements as well, while allowing that there is room for improvement."
The report also requires a comprehensive Corrective Action Plan be submitted to OCFS by December 21, 2013, a directive which Erie County says it "will promptly comply" with.
The report does not sit well with those who were close to Eain. Robin Hart knows nothing can bring her grandson back, but she wants to make sure more children don't slip through the cracks.
We sat down with Hart Friday night as she heard about, and read, the state's Erie County CPS report for the first time.
"Just showing they weren't doing their job," Hart said as she read through the report.
Hart says she called CPS several times about her daughter's boyfriend, the man now charged with Eain's murder. Matthew Kuzdzal has pleaded not guilty to murder and sexual assault and faces up to 35 years to life in prison if convicted.
"Do you feel confident that the children of Erie County are safe right now?" said Channel 2's Kelly Dudzik.
"No, no, no. I do not think that the children of Erie County are safe. At all. Period," said Hart.
Rather than the state giving the county until December 21 to come up with a Corrective Action Plan, Hart things changes should be made immediately.
"I know it's not going to happen overnight, but a month, I don't even think we have a month, a child's life, so for a month we don't know how many children's lives are in danger. I mean, it could be happening right now when I'm sitting here talking to you that another child is being beaten because they didn't do their job. And personally, I have nightmares every night," says Hart.