Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz Friday acknowledged that serious problems remain in Child Protective Services, with 33 disciplinary actions taken against workers over the past year, including five firings and nine suspensions.
But he said a call by two county legislators for Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer to resign is simply an effort to “scapegoat” her for problems that the county is working to fix.
Poloncarz also revealed that a CPS worker had been scheduled to visit 8-year-old Jacob Noe in his North Buffalo home on the same day he was stabbed to death, allegedly by his mother.
Poloncarz was responding to a demand made earlier in the day by two county lawmakers calling for Dankert-Maurer to resign following the latest revelation that a CPS worker was in the midst of investigating the welfare of a child who later wound up dead.
Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo and Legislator Lynne M. Dixon on Friday morning called for Dankert-Maurer’s resignation following a Buffalo News article pointing out how a CPS investigation into Jacob’s living conditions and concern over his mother’s mental health languished after a caseworker assigned to the case had been suspended earlier in an unrelated matter.
Lorigo and Dixon insisted Dankert-Maurer should resign not only because of Jacob’s death but because of how other cases were handled by CPS in which children later died at the hands of their parents of caregivers.
“As many people have, I’ve grown frustrated learning about these deaths through the media,” Lorigo said.
“The Department of Social Services is $800 million of our $1.4 billion budget, and if Commissioner Dankert-Maurer is unable to do her job, which she has shown she is unable to do so, I think it’s time for a change,” he added.
Poloncarz on Friday confirmed that the CPS worker in the case was suspended without pay after failing to meet department standards in a large number of cases prior to Jacob’s death.
He said the suspended worker’s cases were reassigned to other workers for immediate follow-up. Children assigned to the suspended worker’s caseload were visited on the first day that worker was suspended, he added, noting that on the second day of the original caseworker’s suspension, a new CPS caseworker was scheduled to visit Jacob and his mother.
“Tragically, the child was murdered by his mother in the early morning hours of the day the visit was scheduled,” Poloncarz said.
“The loss of any child’s life is a tragedy, especially one taken in a violent manner. Our focus remains on preventing similar tragedies from occurring in the future,” he said.
Jacob’s mother, Jessica L. Murphy, has been charged with second-degree murder. A relative said she suffers from bipolar disorder. Police initially said there had been no CPS investigation into Murphy, 29, who remains in the Erie County Holding Center.
David R. Addelman, Murphy’s assigned attorney, said he is paying close attention to the latest developments regarding CPS.
“This adds another layer to what is already a complicated and tragic case,” Addleman said Friday.
Meanwhile, Poloncarz on Friday said his administration is conducting a thorough review to determine if additional changes are necessary at CPS.
“Making a scapegoat of any single individual will not improve the department, nor will it better protect children from harm,” the county executive added.
Earlier Friday, Lorigo insisted it was time to replace Dankert-Maurer because of CPS workers’ apparent failure to protect children under its purview in four high-profile cases over the past three years. Lorigo said he hand-delivered a letter to Poloncarz calling for Dankert-Maurer’s resignation.
Read More at: Poloncarz admits bumpy ride in Child Protective Services