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Suffer Little Children

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John B. Mattingly is retiring as commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) after seven years in the trenches. At the age of 66, he will return to the child welfare foundation he headed in Baltimore.

His departure is in striking contrast to Jay Walder's jumping ship after 21 months at the MTA to take a far more lucrative position running a railroad in the Orient. Yet Walder may have performed a service by his surprise exit. His manner had alienated many of the people he had to deal with, and the financial chasm between receipts and expenditures had only widened, although through no fault of Walder's.

John Mattingly stayed for the long haul in what is probably the most thankless position in city government. You get into the news only when a child under your protection is murdered, usually by the mother's boyfriend, or when the child starves to death after months or years of neglect and abuse. The more grotesque the death, the more attention it receives in the media, and the more people are shocked by the tragedy, which can often be traced to the negligence or incompetence of employees of the Administration for Children's Services.

The nadir in this agency came five and one half years ago, when the police found the lifeless and emaciated body of Nixzmary Brown in an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant. We reported on the case on January 13, 2006, and you can read our analysis of the situation by clicking here. We reproduce the headline over the story.

TORTURE AND MURDER OF A 7-YEAR OLD GIRL
LIVING WITH FAMILY UNDER ACS SUPERVISION
LEADS TO DEMANDS FOR FULL INVESTIGATION
AND REVIEW OF ACS' FAMILY-FIRST ATTITUDE.

With additional information, we wrote another article five days later, which you can read here. By January 18, similar horror stories were coming to light. This was the headline on the second article:

OBSERVATIONS ON THE DEATH OF AN AMIABLE CHILD,
TORTURED BY ADULTS AND IGNORED BY AUTHORITIES.

The reference to an amiable child is from the caption on a small statue in Riverside Park, just west of Grant's Tomb, which commemorates the life of St. Claire Pollock, a young boy who, on July 15, 1797, fell to his death from the edge of a cliff overlooking the Hudson River. We feel sadness over the centuries at the loss of an innocent child. When the tragedy is caused in part by official misconduct, people feel anger as well as sorrow.

A roster of murdered children appeared in a third story, which was published on January 23. Compare the unusual, hopeful names their mothers gave them with their sordid and pitiful deaths. Click here to read the article headlined:

SIERRA, DAHQUAY, JOZIAH, NIXZMARY;
FOUR CHILDREN DIE IN FOUR MONTHS
WHILE UNDER THE CARE OF CITY ACS.

That column, which is almost lyrical in tone, begins with the poem, "Who killed Cock Robin". It continues with a contemporary version of the children's rhyme. I strongly recommend that you read it; you will not be disappointed.

AFTER THE TRAGEDIES

With the support of Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Mattingly survived these disasters and went on to institute numerous reforms in the beleaguered agency. More caseworkers were hired, and their training improved. Supervision was increased, and supervisors were held responsible for their employees' misconduct. Child welfare advocates, generally critical of public agencies, gave Mattingly good marks on the whole upon his departure.

However, since no one can entirely believe the words of public officials (look, for example, at the hosannahs which exalted Joel I. Klein upon his departure from the Department of Education to enter the service of Rupert Murdoch), we cannot say for certain what, if any, skeletons remain in the closet at ACS.

We commend Commissioner Mattingly for his service and dedication over seven long and arduous years. Mayor Bloomberg was courageous for not yielding to those demanding Mattingly's immediate dismissal after the tragedies.

We have just learned that the mayor has appointed Ronald E. Richter, a Family Court judge, to succeed Mattingly. Richter was formerly a Deputy Commissioner at ACS, in charge of Family Court cases involving child abuse, neglect and custodial rights. He is married to Franklin Cogliano, and they have a 14-month daughter, Maya.

Mayor Bloomberg said that the Commissioner's sexual preference had no relevance to his appointment.