When a child is found dead with bruises on her wrists and torso, the first question is always: Were there warning signs?
In the case of 6-year-old Jalayah Eason, the answer is undoubtedly yes.
It wasn’t just the upstairs neighbor who heard the child “screaming for her dear life” and yelling, “Stop, stop, stop!” Who told a reporter, “You could hear the thumps, bro.”
Nor was it the reports of her 8-year-old brother, who told a classmate that his mother was “whipping him, slapping him.”
Nor was it the school that reported long stretches of absences by the brother, that he was regularly picked up more than an hour late from school, that he wore the same clothes each day and smelled like urine.
Nor was it the brother who came to school with a bruised and swollen face and told a teacher his mother had punched and kicked him for drinking out of the sink.
It was also the worker at the Administration for Children’s Services who went to the home, heard the boy’s account and then listened as the mother explained she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but was not being treated.
The Administration for Children’s Services is apparently trying to peddle a story that this tragedy is in part the result of an agency that is stretched too thin.
According to the New York Times, that neighborhood’s “caseworkers have an average load of 12.5 cases, ACS said — about 17 percent higher than the citywide average.”
Never mind that the average caseload nationwide is between 24 and 31 children. Or that it is well beneath the Child Welfare League of America recommendation of 15 children per social worker.
Just like smaller class size doesn’t guarantee a better education if the teachers are incompetent or spouting ideological nonsense, it has been clear for years that New York City’s child welfare problems do not stem from caseworkers being overwhelmed or children “falling through the cracks.
Between 2008 and 2020 (the last year for which data are available), the number of deaths of children in families who had been previously reported and investigated by ACS increased from 49 to 52 even while workers’ caseload plummeted from 18 to fewer than six children per employee at one point.
These tragic situations are often the result of deliberate decisions by agency leaders to leave children in situations that are unsafe.
There are two narratives driving these decisions.
The first is that ACS is racist. Activists argue the reason black children are placed in foster care more often is structural bias in the system. They want to abolish child protective services the same way they want to defund the police.
In her speech to fellow CUNY Law graduates last week, Fatima Mousa Mohammed proudly mentioned her classmates had gone to court to reunite families “torn apart” by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.
ACS has all but embraced this rhetoric, commissioning a survey of 50 black and Hispanic employees (in an agency with thousands of employees) that concluded child welfare is a “predatory system that specifically targets Black and brown parents.”
The other narrative is that families are investigated and children are removed from their homes simply because of poverty, and claiming a parent is engaging in neglect is really the same as just saying she’s poor.
While it is true families involved in the child welfare system are disproportionately poor, correlation is not causation. A recent study of almost 300 California case files that cited neglect, for instance, found 99% “included concerns related to substance use, domestic violence, mental illness, co-reported abuse or an additional neglect allegation (i.e., abandonment).”
Substance abuse and mental illness often lead to poverty. They also make it hard to properly care for children. But that doesn’t mean poverty is the root cause of child neglect.
Agency leaders say they make a distinction between neglect and abuse and understand there are circumstances in which children are not physically safe.
But in the case of Jalayah, the evidence for abuse was there. ACS says its caseworker didn’t see visible signs on Jalayah’s brother, but that’s probably just an indication it took too long to investigate.
It is time for the agency to stop taking its cues from activists driven by progressive ideology and start putting the safety of children first.