The Evil of Doing Nothing to Protect Kids

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010  |  Updated 6:00 PM EDT
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The Evil of Doing Nothing to Protect Kids

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Carlotta Brett-Pierce (inset) was arrested in connection with the death of her 4-year-old daughter.

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The tragic death of 4-year-old Marchella Pierce is a shocking example of the failure of the New York City bureaucracy to protect children.

The Administration for Children’s Services simply did not  serve the interests of this child, who died of abuse -- and neglect. The question is, how many other children is this agency failing?

The child, who weighed just 18 pounds at her death, did not get  a visit from city workers assigned to protect her for months.  The tragedy seemed to bear out the wisdom of the scriptures that the sins of omission are as great as the sins of commission.

Marchella’s mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, told investigators that she tied the girl to a bed at night to keep her from taking food from the refrigerator and making a mess.

The mother was accused of  beating her child with a videocassette case for punishment. She is charged with second degree assault.

John B. Mattingly, the Commissioner of ACS, confessed to City Council members: “Clearly, Marchella Pierce was a vulnerable child, and as a city we needed to do more to help her.”

Mattingly deserves credit for admitting the city government’s guilt -- but there has been no major effort to find or confess all the sins that might have been committed.

When it comes to the major problems of New York, history often repeats itself. This case brings back painful memories of the death of Nixzmary Brown, a Brooklyn seven-year-old whose mother and stepfather were accused of beating her to death in 2006.

At that time, Mattingly began a campaign to reform his department. He found  that caseworkers were visiting homes but often missed evidence right under their eyes.  Mattingly said the way his people were making judgments was “spotty.”

The Citizens' Committee for Children is a non-profit agency that scrutinizes government actions. This agency’s executive director, Jennifer March-Joly, told me: “I think this is a tragic case. Marchella was treated for physical injuries at a hospital. Why did the hospital discharge her?

“It’s really troubling. It seems there was systemic failure in the field office at the time of the child’s death. They clearly dropped the ball. There is no case record.”

The problems of this family were assigned to an outside agency but its contract with the city expired in June. The New York Times reported the city’s Children’s Services began monitoring the family in November. But there’s no record that its protective staff had any contact with the family after March 2.

This case is a bureaucratic mishmash. Ms. Marsh-Joly wonders whether recent budget cuts have hampered this department’s ability to handle its responsibilities. The answer to that question won’t bring Marchella back to life.

There should be a hall of shame for those who mistreated kids like Nixzmary Brown and Marchella Pierce---youngsters who died of abuse and neglect. It’s time perhaps that there was a day of reckoning. 

Talk about sins of omission! Philosopher Edmund Burke put it well: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

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