What are the arguments for and against holding Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) workers criminally liable when children are injured and/or killed? Given recent events surrounding the death of four year old Marchella Brett-Pierce, this debate has been launched into the lime light. Although we do not want to discourage social workers from taking what are already undesirable jobs in respect to low pay, long hours, and heart wrenching issues, by adding the risk of criminal liability, there still needs to be accountability. There is a difference between an unforeseen and uncontrollable disaster occurring despite the social worker’s tireless efforts, and one that is the result of fraud and negligence. When a case worker does not perform the essential duties of his position, one in which children’s lives are dependent upon on a daily basis, and then falsifies reports further endangering the child’s life, there must be consequences.
But going beyond where to draw the liability line, we must ask what the root causes of these situations are. Is it pure laziness and the result of one bad apple out of the bunch? Or does it go deeper, into the realms of institutional organization and city funding? According to the attorney for ACS supervisor, Chereece Bell, ten workers under her supervision were forced to balance a caseload of 40 each. However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that the average case load for city workers was only 9, and budget cuts have not affected caseload sizes. Why the discrepancy? What is the truth of the matter?
It is this writer’s belief that hearings should be held to fully understand how ACS currently operates on a daily basis, and whether it is effective and realistic in protecting children. Regulations must be revamped to ensure small caseloads and a checks and balances system should be developed to ensure the validity of reports based on site visits. ACS workers are entrusted with tasks that are meant to protect those who are most vulnerable and innocent among our city residents.
The events surrounding the death of little Marchella are truly tragic and heart wrenching. Officials need to make a gut check, take proper steps to hold all necessary parties liable, and make necessary changes to the system as a whole. This is unacceptable.