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New Jersey Governor Address Problems That Lead to Death of 7- year-old in Protective Custody

Aired January 10, 2003 - 15:08   ET


ARTHEL NEVILLE, CNN ANCHOR: We do see that the governor, McGreevey, is approaching. He's at the podium now. We're going to listen in.
GOV. JIM MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY: I stand here today with Commissioner Harris, Mr. Kevin Ryan.

All of us in public service understand our basic moral obligations for those who are least able to take care of themselves. In the entirety of my life in public service, nothing I have encountered has personally shaken me as much as this tragedy. The events of the past week put into clear perspective the challenges, the problems we confront in our daily lives and the role of government in protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

There is no more fundamental obligation of a government than to protect those who cannot protect themselves, namely, our children. The failure of government in this instance to safeguard the health and welfare of these children is beyond excuse. It is sickening. Today, we will not defend the status quo, because it is simply not defensible.

I'm not going to come before you and tell you that this problem will be solved by another blue-ribbon commission or simple reorganization. We simply do not need another study to tell us what the problems are. Too often, the problem has been a lack of accountability and responsibility. The problem at the DYFS Newark office specifically is not new. And, regrettably, some of the individuals involved are not new.

Unfortunately, the poverty and the magnitude of this problem has existed for too long and is so severe that it has actually contributed to the sense of hopelessness that nothing can be done to protect these children. I refuse to accept that. These are difficult, trying jobs in difficult neighborhoods and circumstances. But I will not accept that as an excuse for negligence.

I will not accept that individuals should not be held accountable for the failure to follow procedures simply because they are difficult jobs. I will not accept orderly, disciplinary action and then failing to follow through. It sends the wrong message and reinforces a perception of hopelessness.

I have to be accountable to the citizens of the state, and, most importantly, the children of the state. When I have made mistakes, I have said so. Every one in this government must be accountable. And I intend to make sure that happens.

Let me say that, while we will hold workers accountable for their actions, we must also hold parents accountable for their actions and for the way they treat their children. DYFS exists because too many parents abuse and neglect their children. No one should interpret our actions as any indication that we will tolerate the mistreatment of our children or of the workers who are doing their job to protect them.

Without a doubt, changes must and will be made. We must modernize the technology that enables case workers to track children. And we are doing that. We will reduce case loads, improve training, and devise a new system for ensuring independent review of decisions, particularly in the most difficult of cases. We will do that.

And we are blessed to have a commissioner, Commissioner Harris, an individual with the personal background, integrity, credibility and experience to make the fundamental changes required at this agency.

But we also must engage a larger discussion with community and religious leaders as to the breakdown of our families, a loss of a sense of accountability, and the loss of our neighborhoods. They must be part of the solution. And I want it to be clear. We will require and we will demand personal accountability at every level throughout the division to address the immediate problems. And we must recommit ourselves to the larger effort of securing the necessity of these reforms over the long term.

And now it is my pleasure to introduce the commissioner of the Department of Human Services, Commissioner Gwen Harris.


It's been a difficult week. And I've said, and will say again, we all grieve for the loss of a child. We are sickened by what happened to him and his brothers. And, as the governor indicated, I work for DYFS. I worked in Newark at a district office manager. I understand the challenges. I also understand the potential and the need.

There are serious problems in this case. The problems speak both to human error and policy issues. We all know by now that this Williams family had their case closed with an outstanding allegation of abuse and neglect. And the case worker had not visibly seen the child in over a year. By any standard, this never, ever should have happened.

As a result of that alone, I instituted emergency measures to make sure that cases are not closed again ever in this manner. To reiterate, local case workers in any district office under any circumstances cannot close a case if there is an open allegation of abuse and neglect and the child has not been seen. You may already be aware, I declared a state of emergency and ordered casework staff to go out to immediately establish contact with the 280 cases statewide where there was an unresolved allegation. Since the time of this order, the number has now been reduced to 110. We found 170 of those children, saw them within the last 48 hours.

In the cases where we were unable to see the children, we are now asking for the help of other agencies to find them. We are taking extraordinary measures, working with the police, putting stops on welfare checks, where the parent is receiving aid for these children, until these children are produced, working with the schools and the courts.

Additionally, in cases where we do not have an allegation, but we have a case that is open and it is felt it could be closed, but the child is not available and cannot be seen, I have instituted a directive that the district office no longer has the authority to close that case. They can only recommend that closure and submit their recommendation to the division director. And it must be approved at that level.

NEVILLE: OK, we've been listening to New Jersey Governor James McGreevey and other New Jersey officials on a tragic case of child abuse. A 7-year-old boy was killed. His two brothers were found starving and beaten in a basement.


7-year-old in Protective Custody>

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