Erie County lawmakers are calling for a 25-year-old council to step up its advocacy efforts on behalf of imperiled children and mentally challenged adults in the county.
The Legislature approved a resolution Thursday aimed at strengthening the mission the Community Coordinating Council on Children and Families. The action was taken in the wake of three high-profile abuse and neglect cases over the past three years in which Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services were blamed for failing to take steps that might have prevented the deaths of the victims.
The 24-member council directly advises both the county executive and the Legislature on a broad range of county endeavors aimed at protecting children and families. It was established under the County Charter in 1988, and amended in 1990 and 1992.
Among its responsibilities are to monitor and gauge the effectiveness of children’s services programs in the county; identify deficiencies and recommend corrective action; and improve the coordination of resources within the county’s children’s services system. Lana D. Benatovich, president of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York, and James J. Casion of Baker Victory Services are co-chairmen of the community coordinating council.
Legislature Majority Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, who introduced the resolution, described the measure as an attempt at reinvigorating the council. It calls for the county executive, as well as the commissioners and directors of the county’s various health and human services departments to work on expanding the purview of the council. In addition, the Legislature would be tasked with reviewing the existing law governing the council with the intention of broadening its scope to include adults who would fall under the purview of adult protection, including those who are mentally challenged.
Three years ago, county caseworkers in the Adult Protective Services Division came under fire for failing to adequately investigate complaints of neglect against Laura Cummings, a 23-year-old mentally challenged woman, in North Collins. Her mother and half-brother were convicted in her January 2010 death, and both are serving lengthy prison sentences.
Over a year ago, Child Protective Services faced similar complaints in the April 2012 fatal bludgeoning of 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud in his Guilford Street home at the hands of his stepfather.
More recently, Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer fired two CPS caseworkers for mishandling child abuse complaints against Matthew Kuzdzal, who is accused of the beating death of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks nearly a month ago.
Lawmakers also raised the idea Thursday of pursuing further discussion of Child Protective Services and the administration’s recently approved reorganization of the Department of Social Services. Those discussions would be referred to the Legislature’s Public Health and Human Services Committees.