The mother of slain 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks gave birth to a girl last week and Child Protective Services promptly placed the infant with relatives as steps are taken to determine who will raise her.
In the meantime, CPS workers have begun an investigation into Nora Brooks’ care of Eain.
A child abuse complaint was filed with the state’s central register telephone hotline in Albany on Sept. 18, the day after Eain died from brain injuries that police say Brooks’ live-in boyfriend inflicted on her son at their West Side apartment.
Although Brooks is named in the complaint, it has not been alleged she caused the abuse. Relatives of Eain believe the new CPS investigation centers on the boyfriend, Matthew Kuzdzal, 26, who already has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Eain.
Kuzdzal, the father of the baby girl, is accused of beating Eain while Brooks was away from the apartment on the evening of Sept. 15.
While Erie County Child Protective Services has been the target of complaints that it failed to act on reports concerning Eain’s well-being, now another family member says Niagara County Child Protective Services also failed to act on complaints filed when Brooks and Eain lived there.
“Erie County isn’t solely responsible for this. Niagara County played a part,” said Tammie Garcia, Eain’s paternal grandmother. “I’m not saying Erie County didn’t fail him, but Niagara County does have something to do with this. It wasn’t a onetime thing or one man. It was more than just Matt. It was her. She is very needy. She does not like to be alone. She has been in quite a few abusive relationships.”
Garcia, who lives in Niagara Falls, claims she complained twice to Niagara County CPS when Brooks and Eain resided in North Tonawanda because of her concern that the boy was suffering physical abuse and neglect.
“I had seen bruises on him as a toddler. The bruises were in the wrong places and were not explainable,” said Garcia, the mother of Kyle Charette, Eain’s biological father. “Niagara County never came out and interviewed me. They sent Nora a letter and unfounded the complaints against her.”
A Niagara County Social Services official, who requested anonymity because of confidentiality laws, late Thursday said Garcia’s claims are absolutely false.
“We have no record of any report ever being made regarding Eain,” the official said, adding that after Eain was killed last month, a check of records was made and there were no reports in the state register coming from Niagara County.
The official pointed out that all complaints must be made to the state register and that if there is not enough information to warrant an investigation, the complaint is screened out and is not forwarded for action.
Garcia says she called both Niagara County CPS directly and the state hotline.
Individuals who call the county directly, the official said, are told they have to call the register’s 1-800 number in Albany and then the case is referred back to the county if it has merit.
“Unless they record and accept the report at the register, we do not get it,” the official said. “I would estimate that two out of every three complaints are screened out for lack of information.”
Garcia insists she contacted Niagara County and the state.
Brooks declined to comment on the ongoing CPS investigation involving her or whether she intends to seek custody of her newborn daughter, but her lawyer, Peter P. Vasilion, said it is not surprising CPS is looking at her.
“It goes without question that she would be named in any CPS letter because she is the biological mother. Even if CPS knew she had nothing to do with the event, she would still be named,” Vasilion said. “The facts are still coming out. Everything is still in a state of flux and at some point in time a clear picture will come out and we’ll know what we are dealing with.”
Vasilion said he has heard of “rumors and innuendo” that Brooks is being criminally investigated but added, “I don’t think she has criminal culpability. If it comes to pass that they wish to charge her, then we’ll deal with it.”
The attorney said it is too early to say whether Brooks will seek custody of her daughter. “She hasn’t had enough time to process the whole thing,” he said. “She is reviewing her options and, frankly, CPS’ position is do not make a rushed decision and we’ll go forward from there.”
Eain’s relatives are saying that Brooks failed to protect her son and should not be granted custody of her daughter, who has been named Hope.
Garcia, speaking out for the first time, said that she had shared with Brooks her own personal tragedies of being a physically abused woman and temporarily losing custody of her daughter when she was living in Cattaraugus County years ago.
“I took nine parenting classes and two years of weekly counseling to get my daughter back,” she said. “I have scars on my body from the abuse I suffered. One of my eyes is bigger than the other because my right eye socket was shattered by a man I was living with. When I told Nora this, she started to cry.”
In August 2012, Garcia said she went to Buffalo and helped Brooks move from a home she shared with an abusive boyfriend.
“When I did intervene, the man’s brother had a .45-caliber handgun pointed at me,” Garcia said. “This happened on the West Side of Buffalo. I stood my ground, and I had my grandson Eain in the van while Nora was getting her stuff out of the house. I actually moved her into my house, and she lived here and got a job for a couple months before moving back to Buffalo. She needed a man in her life, and that’s what hurt Eain.”
On another front, State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said he has been in contact with the state Office of Children & Family Services, which is overseeing Erie County’s CPS operations because of what happened to Eain.
“They estimate that the total number of open cases that they have reviewed is at approximately 1,000. The safety of the children in those open cases has been ‘ascertained’ and OCFS is still in the midst of the second phase of its assessment,” Kennedy said.
The second phase focuses on reviewing the county’s plans to close out 200 cases CPS workers believe have been sufficiently addressed. Once that review is complete, the state will report its findings, Kennedy said.