Sometimes, the stories that create law are so horrendous that they speak directly to our hearts. It is at that time that you realize how important the law is. It is also when you realize how important another person’s job can be to the lives of others. In many cases, overworked and underpaid civil servants lose sight of how important their calling is. When that happens, they can drop the ball and cut corners. Cut corners always lead to a bad ending.
In New York, the job of the Clinton County Department of Social Services encompasses the assessment of homes to determine if children are deprived or neglected. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the primary goal of the social worker is to work with the parents to keep the child in their natural born home, if at all possible. Sometimes, it is not possible. Sometimes, the social worker does not keep the paperwork as meticulously as it should be kept. Sometimes, it is not possible for the social worker to predict that the parents who are not beating their children or leaving them without food might be the biggest risk to the children in their care.
On March 31, 2010, a set of twins was born to a young couple in Clinton County, New York. One was a boy named Zachary and the other, his twin sister, Zoe. On July 26, 2010, the New York State Central Registry received a complaint that the twins were being abused or mistreated. The department sent a social worker to the home and discovered that the couple engaged in domestic violence in the direct presence of the twins. There was no information recorded about how this information was received, and no documentation of any steps taken to council the parents. The documentation states that the caseworker recommended that the couple engage in mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment. However, there is no documentation about why these steps were recommended. There is no documentation of any mental health problems or substance abuse associated with the report.
On August 31, 2010, the social services report states that caseworkers attempted to gain entry into the home of the couple and the twins. It states that after knocking repeatedly on the doors and windows, they obtained entry by force with the assistance of the New York State Police. The report does not explain why force was deemed necessary or what information the social workers had to determine that the children may have been in distress. What they found upon entry was that the parents were sleeping upstairs. The twins were awake and downstairs. Zoe was unattended and propped on a sofa. Zachary was in a swing. A Westchester Criminal Lawyer said the report states that the parents’ were informed that this was inadequate supervision and demonstrated a flaw in their parental judgment. The social worker advised that the infants were at risk of physical harm. There was no further information recorded in reference to this incident or the actions that were taken to ensure that the children would be better cared for. Following this incident, the social services department noted that the mother was recommended to attend traumatic brain injury counseling. There is no reason given as to why this recommendation was made. In fact, there is no exact date given that would determine when the assessment was made. There was no evidence that any counseling or assessments had been completed.
On September 26, 2010, the New York State Central Registry was called again to the home in reference to child abuse or maltreatment of the twins. Upon their arrival, they discovered that Zachary had been left unattended downstairs, propped in the corner of an overstuffed chair at 2:30 that morning with a bottle of water propped up for him. At 9:00 a.m. when the parents woke up and checked on him, he was unresponsive and later determined to be dead. The cause of death was positional asphyxia. Twenty four days after Zachary died, the social services department filed a petition claiming that as a result of the parents’ flawed parental judgment, Zoe should be regarded as neglected and removed from their care.
According to the State of New York, before social services can remove a child from the care of their parents, they must show that they made reasonable efforts to keep the family united. The supervisor in charge of the case workers later testified before the courts that caseworkers went out on three separate occasions after July 26, 2010. As a result of those home visits, they recommended that the couple attend parenting class and other preventive services. There were no exact dates recorded of those visits and no evidence that either parent ever attended any of the parenting classes. The supervisor reported in court that caseworkers had seen severe deficits in parenting and had addressed those I the home visits. She stated that the recommendations involved counseling about bottle propping, safe sleeping, safe positioning of infants, and age appropriate developmental milestones. When questioned by the judge, the supervisor testified that she could not specify when the recommendations were made, only that they were made on at least August 31, 2010.
The supervisor testified that after Zachary died on September 26, 2010, the caseworkers had developed a child care plan for the safety of Zoe. The supervisor indicated that the voluntary child care plan that the parents agreed on involved Zoe going to live with a friend of the family. This never happened and Zoe remained in the care of her parents. The supervisor claimed that on October 17, 2010 the Department met with the parents and again recommended that they engage in parenting classes and undergo a parenting assessment. She claimed that preventive services were again discussed. The supervisor claimed that caseworkers returned to the apartment on October 18, 2010 and made additional recommendations for services including mental health screening, substance abuse treatment, traumatic brain injury assessment, parenting assessment, parenting classes and preventive services. The supervisor indicated that they made contact with friends and relatives concerning the welfare of Zoe. The supervisor stated that the parents refused preventive services and would not cooperate with the recommendations. The court noticed that social services did not file any actions in court against either parent for failing to comply with the recommendations until the case that was filed on October 20, 2010 requesting the removal of Zoe from the home for her safety. There was no documentation of any services offered to the parents relating to domestic violence which was the one documented incident that was made.
The judge was disappointed with the lack of documentation that was present in this case. The transcript of the case states that he stated that the law does not create a presumption that the department of Social Services made a reasonable effort to eliminate the need for placement of Zoe. Unfortunately, the burden of proof on the issue of removing Zoe for her safety is on social services who must establish that reasonable efforts were made. The judge stated that in this case, assuming that the allegations in the petition are true and accepting that the testimony of the supervisor who signed the petition is credible, then they failed to meet their burden of proof for two reasons. First, they failed to show that recommended services were tailored to address the problems in that home. Second, assuming that removal was not required earlier to prevent the death of Zachary, the department should have filed an Article 10 petition demanding that the parents comply with services that were tailored to their needs. Based on the testimony given, the court could not determine that any services recommended were necessary. There was no evidence that the neglect was caused by anyone abusing substances, mental illness or that either parent had suffered from a traumatic brain injury. The court chastised the department for not taking the steps that would have protected Zachary. The judge stated that just providing the parents with a list of services did not meet the requirement of reasonable efforts.
Zachary’s death was unnecessary. The inability of the Department of Social Services to remove Zoe to a safe place is unconscionable. However, if the information provided by the Supervisor is not correct, then it is possible that the department of social services is just as much at fault for Zachary’s death as the parents. Criminal Attorneys evaluating this case would first notice that the department had ample opportunity to notice that these parents did not know how to care for infants. If the wife was battered, there are services that could have eliminated the problems in the home before Zachary died. Whether you have been charged with domestic violence, sex crimes or a theft charge, Stephen Bilkis & Associates can represent you. We have convenient offices throughout New York and the Metropolitan area. If you know anyone who is dealing with spousal abuse and needs help, think about the effects on the children. Was that mother too afraid to leave the husband and go downstairs and care for the children? There is no way to know for sure. Suggest that they consult with a NY Domestic Violence Lawyer.