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In the aftermath of Nixzmary - Officials warn much more needs to be done to protect children

If there is one thing that Nixzmary Brown’s tragic death over a year ago taught us is that more needs to be done to protect the most defenseless of our city – our children. A Brooklyn elected official made that point abundantly clear last week as he marked the one-year anniversary of Brown’s death by demanding that more resources be funneled to the city’s Administration of Children’s Services (ACS), the first line of defense for abused children. Park Slope City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, chair of the council’s general welfare committee, called on the administration to make permanent the $4.2 million infusion of capital funds for preventative services given to ACS following the murder of Nixzmary Brown. The seven-year-old was allegedly beaten to death by her stepfather, Ceasar Rodriguez. Her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, did nothing to stop Rodriguez from killing her child, officials said. As of this writing, Rodriguez was facing murder, sex abuse and child endangerment charges. Nixzmary’s mother is facing manslaughter charges. Nixzmary’s death shed a harsh light on the ACS, an agency that critics called overburdened and ineffectual since it was reportedly aware of the horrors that were happening in Nixzmary’s home, but rarely checked up on the case. The money funneled to the ACS after the tragedy helped hire more social workers, which lowered the caseload for each agent. Just over $13 million was funneled to ACS from the administration and the City Council. The increase in capital, however, was a one-shot deal. De Blasio hopes that the funding remains the same in future fiscal years. “That should become a permanent part of the budget,” said de Blasio as he stood alongside parent advocates on the steps of City Hall Thursday. At the same time, de Blasio called for increasing the number of judges in New York City Family Court to handle the increased deluge of abuse filings that have occurred over the last year. Family Court officials said that neglect filings in 2006 was 163 percent higher than in 2004. Abuse filings were 63 percent higher in 2006 than the year before, statistics show. The number of Family Court Judges, which is determined by the State Legislature, hasn’t increased since 1991. “You can’t talk about child welfare without looking at Family Court,” de Blasio said. “By fully funding preventive services and providing additional resources to family court, we have the opportunity to better the lives of thousands of children and families going through the child welfare system every year.” “We know that engaging parents can be critical to keep their children safe,” said Sue Jacobs, Center for Family Representation. “However, working with parents either before or during court cases requires that appropriate, consistent and comprehensive services be made available to families in our poorest and least resourced communities,” Jacobs said. “Prevention services can help divert from court while allowing the judges and court staff to have more time for the cases which are deemed in need of the supervision of the court,” she said. City officials said that they were going to address de Blasio’s concerns.

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