2005-12-16 / Front Page

ACS Admits Fault In Child’s Death

By Howard Schwach

A young Rockaway girl may have died at the hands of her father because the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the agency tasked with the welfare of children did not pay enough attention to a doctor’s report of child abuse, according to a scathing report issued by the agency on Tuesday.

“The agency found that it did not respond aggressively enough to a doctor’s suspicions that she had been abused,” the report said of its own actions leading up to the death of the girl.

Sierra Roberts, 7, died after her father kneed her in the stomach and beat her with a belt over two days, Richard Brown, the Queens District Attorney alleged when the girl died in October.

At the time of her death, the girl was in custody of her father after she was removed from a foster home and returned to him in December of 2000.

Sierra was born with a positive toxicology for Cocaine, according to the report. In May of 1998, Sierra’s mother made an admission that she used the drug and her father admitted that he knew of her regular drug use.

A petition of neglect was filed and Sierra was placed in foster care.

While Sierra’s mother disappeared from the girl’s life, the agency says that her father, Russell Roberts, never missed a visit with the little girl and was “cooperative” with the agency.

He completed a parenting class and also went through a drug treatment program. The agency says that he obtained a job, adequate housing and day care help.

Roberts petitioned the court for the return of his daughter and it was granted based on the ACS findings.

On May 30, 2003, Sierra’s doctor made a call to the state’s central registry for child abuse.

The agency says that the call did not allege abuse or maltreatment, but the doctor has said that it did.

Because of a computer error, the information was added to the case as “additional information,” a classification that did not call for a follow-up visit since the case was closed.

That “additional information” was that Sierra had sustained a fractured spine in December of 2002 and that shortly after she was discharged from rehabilitation for that injury, she sustained a fractured right leg.

The doctor said that he did not suspect abuse for the spinal injury because the father told him that she had fallen. When she returned for the broken leg and the father told the doctor that “he had fallen on her,” the doctor made the call.

The hospital’s social worker said that the father’s behavior seemed “appropriate” at the time and that it did not raise any suspicion.

Roberts did not tell ACS that his daughter had a fractured spine, but that she was operated on for “a curved spine.” He denied causing either of the injuries.

Sierra died on October 25, 2005.

In its report, ACS admitted, “Children’s Services did not conduct a full investigation and assessment of safety and risk. The follow up to the ‘additional information’ narrative has several gaps. Medical providers and the doctor who treated the broken leg were never contacted. [We] did not address the inconsistencies in the father’s story about the cause of the spinal injury or the location of the incident leading up to the fractured leg.”

It added, “Given Mr. Robert’s history of substance abuse, questions of current drug use should have been added as part of the 2003 assessment, especially in light of his unemployment and eviction.”

As part of the report, the agency said that it would more closely monitor the “additional information” sources and that it would pay closer attention to cases where there are multiple injuries over a short period of time.

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