2005-11-25 / Community

ACS Promises Reform In Wake Of Murder Of 7-Year-Old

By Howard Schwach


The murder of an Arverne girl who was taken from foster care and given back to her birth father has spurred demands that the Administration For Children’s Services (ACS) strengthen safety measures for the children under the agency’s care, according to a high agency official.

John Mattingly, the city’s Commissioner for ACS, told reporters that the agency is preparing a report, to be issued in the next two weeks, that would address the deaths of Far Rockaway youth Sierra Roberts, 7 and 16-month-old Dahquay Gillians, a Brooklyn youth who was killed a week after the death of the Rockaway girl.

“We’ve been hurt by [these murders] but that’s not enough,” Mattingly told a news conference. “We’re a public agency and we need to do better.”

He added that he plans to review the services offered to families both before and after children are returned to their birth homes.

“We know now, I think that there are some steps that can and need to be taken,” he concluded.

Sierra Roberts died on October 25 of internal injuries. Her father, Russell Roberts, has been charged in her death.

Roberts fought for and won custody of his daughter in 2001 after her mother died. ACS reportedly investigated an earlier abuse report involving the father when her spine was fractured, but ACS allowed the father to retain custody.

Mattingly told reporters that the agency would continue to reunite families whenever possible. He said that in 2004, 4,300 children were safely returned to their birth parents after having been placed in foster care situations.

“This is a system that is functioning well,” Mattingly said. “You shouldn’t take one individual incident and let it tell you that everything’s broken.”

The foster care parents who had custody of Roberts for three years say that her father wanted the child only so he could obtain better housing and funding from the city.

That family charges that the young girl was “nothing but a meal ticket” to her father. They say that he received Section Eight Housing, food stamps and checks from social services to support her, perks he would not have received if he did not have custody of the little girl.

According to a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, Roberts allegedly beat his daughter and continually kicked her in the stomach with his knee.

According to the DA, Roberts had a long history with ACS.

Roberts was charged with second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child and assault.

“[Roberts’] attack was both heartless and heartbreaking, Brown said in a prepared statement.

On the morning of October 25, Roberts called 911, stating that his daughter was ill.

She was rushed by ambulance to Peninsula Hospital Center where she was declared dead about an hour later.

The father was charged with assault and freed on bail.

The Medical Examiner, however, determined her death to be a homicide and he was rearrested and charged with murder.

At his arraignment, an assistant district attorney said that Roberts had given statements that he admitted that he had hit his daughter with a belt several times and had continually kneed her in the stomach prior to the 911 call.

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