The state has launched a review of all open child abuse investigations by Erie County Child Protective Services in response to last week’s beating death of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks.
The state’s Office of Children & Family Services notified State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, late Wednesday afternoon that the review is under way and that additional steps to oversee the county’s CPS operation will continue for an extended period.
The state also is moving forward with a legally required fatality investigation into Eain’s death to determine what services the county had provided prior to the fatal attack.
Relatives of the Buffalo boy have said they repeatedly called county CPS workers to report that Matthew W. Kuzdzal, the 26-year-old live-in boyfriend of Eain’s mother, was physically abusing the child and that CPS failed to take precautionary steps.
Kuzdzal was charged with second-degree murder last Thursday, two days after Eain died from massive brain injuries.
The News on Wednesday also received an independent confirmation from a police source close to the criminal investigation that CPS had received numerous complaints regarding Eain’s safety.
“First we are conducting an immediate safety assessment on all open CPS cases to establish that the proper protections are in place to safeguard the children involved,” said Gladys Carrion, commissioner of the Office of Children & Family Services. “In addition, we will be reviewing the next 200 cases prior to Erie County CPS making a determination that a case can be closed in order to assess whether the investigation was thoroughly conducted and that the conclusion is sound.”
Kennedy had written a letter to Carrion on Friday expressing concern that CPS failed to take necessary actions to protect Eain, after having received repeated complaints about the boy’s welfare.
He requested a review of Erie County CPS and a statewide investigation into how county child protective workers determine if a child is at risk.
“I am pleased that the state is using its authority to thoroughly investigate Child Protective Services and taking further steps to protect the safety of our children in Erie County,” Kennedy said. “These are important and long-needed actions to root out child abuse.”
Robin Hart, Eain’s maternal grandmother, said that while she is grateful for the efforts by Kennedy and the state, they will not help her grandson.
“It is a little late in my eyes. Like I said, they need to have more than one caseworker making a decision. They leave it to one person to decide a child’s safety and that is not right,” Hart said. “I understand they’re shorthanded, but they need to share the case, two or three caseworkers each investigating and then going back and making a decision.”
Hart said she asked the caseworker assigned to Eain’s case months ago what it would take to place the boy in a safe situation. “Obviously the caseworker on Eain had an opinion that was wrong and now he can live with it the rest of his life. He is responsible for it and can live with it the rest of his life,” Hart said.
She added that she wants to meet children and family services investigators to provide them with her account of how the system failed to protect Eain.
On Wednesday, additional horrific details of the attack on the boy were obtained by The News.
Eain, authorities believe, was sexually molested, then washed in a bathtub during which time his head may have been slammed against the tub at the first-floor Albany Street apartment on the West Side where Eain lived with his mother, Nora Brooks, and Kuzdzal.
Kuzdzal told police he went outside to smoke marijuana and that when he returned inside, he found Eain lying at the bottom of the basement steps.
Police are awaiting the results of other evidence before deciding whether to charge Kuzdzal with sexual assault.
They say that Kuzdzal was alone baby-sitting Eain on the evening of Sept. 15 when the incident occurred.
Attorney Robert J. Cutting, who is representing Kuzdzal, told The News Wednesday night why he believes the death is a tragic accident.
“I have not seen the medical or autopsy reports,” he said. “My understanding is largely based on conversations I have had with my client and with the three statements he gave to the police.
“The way the child was injured was that my client was trying to get the child to cooperate and take a shower and he pushed the boy towards the tub. The child flipped over into the tub and struck his head.
“The child appeared fine with no noticeable physical injury and was able to talk and it was only later when my client was unable to find the child that he went and looked for him and found him on the floor in the basement surrounded by the laundry. One of the child’s basic household chores was to take the laundry down into the basement,” Cutting said.
“As soon as my client sees the child is in distress, he performs CPR, texts the mother and calls 911. That’s why I call it a tragic accident.”
Carrion, in her letter to Kennedy, also stated she was suspending Erie County’s Family Assessment Response program, an alternative approach to investigating child abuse and neglect claims.
Unlike traditional child abuse investigations, FAR is less confrontational and provides the family with immediate services to hold the family together, if it is determined there is no threat to the child.
FAR came under scrutiny after 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud was bludgeoned to death last year by his stepfather, Ali-Mohamed Mohamud, who beat the boy more than 70 times over the head with a baker’s rolling pin in the basement of the family’s Guilford Street house on the East Side.
A year before Abdifatah was murdered on April 17, 2012, he had called 911 twice, moments apart, urging police to hurry to his home, saying it was a matter of life and death involving his stepfather. Police investigated the case and called in Child Protective Services.
The News later learned the case was referred to the county’s FAR program. Following Abdifatah’s death, Erie County disbanded one of its FAR teams, explaining that increasing numbers of child abuse reports required a reallocation of manpower.
A child protection official said Eain’s case was not referred to FAR.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz Wednesday evening issued a statement welcoming the state’s expanded role in this latest tragedy. “Maintaining children’s safety is a responsibility that my administration takes very seriously.
“Yesterday, we agreed to a joint process with the New York State Office of Children & Family Services and advised OCFS that we would fully cooperate with them in a shared investigation, which then commenced. The protection of our children is of paramount concern, and we must take every step possible to prevent another tragedy,” Poloncarz said.