Majority leader calls on Social Services commissioner to resign

May 23, 2014

Erie County legislators are responding to new information regarding the May 14 death of 8-year-old Jacob Noe, the child whose mother has been charged in connection with his death. The legislature's majority leader is now calling for Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer to resign.

According to a report in Friday's The Buffalo News, Child Protective Services was investigating the situation at the boy's North Buffalo home, but failed to remove him. His mother, 29-year-old Jessica Murphy, has been charged with second-degree murder in the boy's fatal stabbing. 

Legislator Joseph Lorigo calls this another in a growing list of high-profile cases where CPS failed to intervene before a tragedy occurred. Change, Lorigo says, is needed to bring the trend to an end.

"Last year, the administration did end up adding three top-level managers at the expense of adding additional caseworkers. This was supposed to solve the problems of the previous deaths. Clearly, that didn't work. My colleagues and I fought to get additional caseworkers and not these three top-level managers. It's clear to me now that we don't need additional managers. What we need is a new manager," Lorigo told WBFO on Friday.

The Department of Social Services, which oversees Child Protective Services, is an $800 million county department. Lorigo claims Dankert-Maurer gives too much of her focus on her role as the president of the New York State Welfare Association and not enough overseeing CPS caseworkers.

The department has come under fire in recent years after two young boys, 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks and 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud, were murdered in their homes.

Lorigo was joined by Legislator Lynne Dixon, Chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, in making the call Friday morning.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued the following statement in response late Friday afternoon:

"The Department of Social Services has been working diligently to improve its child protective response. As more has been asked of workers, most have performed very well, while some have not. As a result, a number of workers have not been allowed to pass probationary training, have been reprimanded, suspended and discharged. In the past 12 months, there have been 33 disciplinary actions in Child Protective Services, including five terminations and nine suspensions. County Executive Poloncarz will continue to insist that only those qualified and ready to fully perform their duties be in positions of trust in the Department of Social Services. It is equally important that meaningful solutions be put in place.

A worker involved in a recent case, after having received a number of lesser disciplinary actions, was suspended without pay prior to the death of the child for failing to meet the standards of the department in a large number of cases. That worker’s cases were reassigned to other workers for immediate follow-up. Starting on the first day of the suspension, children were visited.  The deceased child was scheduled to be seen on the second day of the worker’s suspension. Tragically the child was murdered by his mother in the early morning hours of the day the visit was scheduled.

As with previous cases, my administration is conducting a thorough review to determine if additional changes are necessary. Making a scapegoat of any single individual will not improve the Department, nor will it better protect children from harm. 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."