Criminal Charges for Administration for Children’s Services Caseworkers

The horrid death of Marchella Pierce’s, the four year old that died weighing a mere 18 pounds, produced four arrests.  Her mother, her grandmother and the two city caseworkers on her case all have charges against them.

She came under the watch of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and her well-being fell to caseworkers who, prosecutors say, ignored the family. After she was taken home from a nursing home in 2009, she was supposed to be looked after by two sets of caseworkers, one from the city and one from a private agency under contract to the city.  But both Children’s Services and the private agency said they doubted they knew then that Marchella even existed; she was in the nursing home when the first complaint about her mother’s drug use came in.  It is also unknown whether caseworkers compiled a full family history, as they reasonably should have.

Prosecutors said that the caseworker did not made required visits to the family, lied about it, and his supervisor failed in her supervision. The Children’s Services caseworker assigned to Marchella’s care, and his supervisor were charged with criminally negligent homicide.  It is the first time that city child welfare workers have been incriminated in a death.

One city caseworker told the New York Times that in doing her job,  “You ask yourself, if I don’t do a visit, will this child die? …That’s horrible. But that’s what we have to do. The truth is any child can die if you don’t make a visit.” The recent arrests have made things worse, she said. “I don’t know how to do this job,” she said. “We’re terrified.”

This death reveals the inadequacy of ACS investigations. The agency does not follow their own rules and regulations and thus children continue to die under their supervision. This death highlights the need for revamping the system in order to protect the children as well as employee liability. Was this really all two caseworkers fault? Each worker in ACS is overwhelmed with cases and must determine which is more vital to check up on based on instinct alone. If anything, this is a wake up call that more city funding must go into the agency.

And what is to be done with Marchella’s two brothers, who are currently in the foster system? Is it better to leave them agencies, which do not properly care for them, supervision, or is it better to bring them to their absentee and unstable father?

ACS has since implemented The Planning Group to thoroughly examine ACS work and identify how to strengthen accountability and better protect at-risk children.  The report details the Planning Group’s extensive review of ACS policies, practices and case analyses, provides feedback on steps that ACS was implementing, and makes recommendations for improvements for the agency. Hopefully these initiatives will help the agency keep better track of agency employees and families, so that other caseworkers do not face criminal charges and other children don’t fall through cracks like Marchella.