Again, a child has been beaten to death, allegedly by someone who should have been his protector. And, once again, Child Protective Services was nowhere to be found.
Eain Brooks was only 5 years old when he was assaulted last week, half the age that Abdi Mohamud was last year when his stepfather murdered him. Abdi had cried out for help, reporting his abuse at the hands of Ali-Mohamed Mohamud. Eain was too intimidated to report being abused, but his relatives spoke up for him.
“I called Child Protective Services numerous times, with the last complaint within 30 days,” said Kyle Charette, Eain’s father. “My son showed up numerous times with black eyes and bruises. I kept getting letters from CPS saying the complaints were unfounded.”
Eain’s maternal grandmother, Robin Hart, told a similar story. “I looked straight in the face of the Child Protective Services worker and said, ‘What … is it going to take? Matt has been beating Eain and also chemically burned him. What is it going to take?’ And now, Eain has been killed by him.”
That is also the conclusion Buffalo police reached. They have charged Matthew W. Kuzdzal with murdering Eain. Police responded on Sept. 15 to a call that the child had fallen down the stairs. He was unconscious when help arrived and, two days later, he died. Kuzdzal, the boyfriend of Eain’s mother, Nora Brooks, gave a statement implicating himself in the boy’s death, said Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.
To hear neighbors tell the story, Kuzdzal was a volcano waiting to erupt. He intimidated his neighborhood, threatened a 93-year-old man who had lent him money and had been arrested numerous times, serving time in prison on a weapons charge.
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about this death, but none is more pressing than to track this case through Child Protective Services and determine how, like Abdi, Eain could have been left at the mercy of someone the agency had been warned about and who had a history of trouble.
There could be many problems, including training, staffing and funding. An investigation last year by the state Office of Children and Family Services reviewed 110 randomly selected child abuse cases handled by Erie County and found multiple deficiencies in how the county investigates child abuse.
Those problems have evidently not been solved. Almost certainly, those issues have been at play for years, but these two deaths have occurred on the watch of Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. That doesn’t mean he bears any personal responsibility for them, but he is responsible for ensuring that whatever is causing Child Protective Services to fail with such tragic consequences is fixed. There could hardly be a more urgent task for him over the remainder of his first term in office.
Part of the problem is the secrecy necessary in Child Protective Services. It would be easier to root out the problems if everything were made public. As was the case in Abdi’s death, however, Poloncarz’s spokesman is noting that the administration cannot comment on the case at this time.
But this is a public issue. Taxpayers fund the office and they have a right to know where it is failing. To the extent possible, the investigation into the actions of Child Protective Services needs to be open if, for no other reason, than to be sure that whatever problems are identified are fixed as quickly as possible.
An editorial in June concluded this way: “There are other potential Abdifatahs in Erie County right now. They need protection from a system that works and that is accountable.”
Today, it can be said that there are more Eains out there, too. This can’t wait.