New York

ACS Held in Contempt for Neglecting Wheelchair-Using Teen Soaked in His Own Urine

A Family Court judge found that ACS failed to comply with multiple orders over the course of a year

What to Know

  • A Family Court judge held ACS in civil contempt in January for failing to care for a disabled teen
  • The scathing ruling found that ACS repeatedly failed to provide the boy a working wheelchair, clothes or therapy
  • The city was ordered to purchase a bond on the boy's behalf and to provide him basic services

The city’s Administration for Children’s Services repeatedly ignored orders to provide adequate shelter, a working wheelchair and basic therapy for a disabled teenager who was left sitting in his own urine, a judge held in a bombshell civil contempt ruling against ACS.

The scathing ruling was issued in late January but was not known of publicly until the I-Team obtained a copy this week. Judge Emily Olshansky held nothing back, finding that ACS had demonstrated a “failure to comply with virtually every order of this Court.” She held the Commissioner of Social Services in civil contempt and ordered the commissioner to buy a $17,150 bond in the child’s name, maturing when he turns 21.

“This should never have happened, and we’re taking significant steps to prevent it from ever happening again," ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell said in a statement.

At issue was the treatment of a teen known as Kenneth R., who suffered brain and spinal injuries in a 2014 car accident and was left incontinent, with difficulty moving and speaking. By October 2017, he was removed from his home after a young step-sister was allegedly abused and ultimately died. (That removal, and the step-sister’s death, came less than four months after ACS caseworkers said the children were well cared-for and receiving what they needed.)

Three of Kenneth’s siblings were placed in foster homes but, according to a copy of the contempt order, Kenneth could not be immediately placed because of his disabilities.

Instead, the court said, he ended up being admitted to the ACS Children’s Center – nominally a short-term facility, but one where he ended up staying for more than a year.

The judge’s contempt order documents a litany of failures subsequent to his admission – not replacing a broken wheelchair for more than a year, never applying for a home health aide to assist him with his daily activities, not getting him an updated medical exam, and failing to provide him with the required occupational, speech or physical therapy.

At one point – after he had already turned 18 – the teen appeared in court to testify on the conditions he allegedly faced.

“Kenneth testified that his clothes and shoes no longer fit him,” the judge wrote, later adding that “Kenneth described how he often spent family visits sitting in a puddle of urine on his broken wheel chair, wearing clothing and shoes that did not fit him.”

On July 31 of last year, the court issued an 11-point order requiring ACS to provide Kenneth with specific services by specific dates. At a Sept. 27 hearing, ACS conceded it had not complied with any of those orders, the judge said.

Kenneth’s lawyer sought a contempt order, and on Oct. 16 ACS’s lawyer, in the judge’s words, “conceded the contempt” and said the only thing left was to assign sanctions.

“As of the beginning of February 2019, Kenneth remained at the Children's Center,” the judge wrote, adding that no effort had been made to evaluate a potential home that had been offered for the boy.

”He did not have a new or even usable wheelchair. Instead, ACS left him with the wheelchair that ACS itself deemed unsuitable in December 2017. He had not received physical, occupational, speech or any other type of therapy. He had not received the evaluations that he needed and that had been ordered.”

Kenneth has since been relocated to a home in upstate New York, sources told News 4 New York, and ACS has launched a review of the case with an eye toward possible disciplinary action.

In a statement on Thursday, Kenneth's attorney Karen Freedman, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Children, said that the "dramatic increase in the number of children at the Center should concern and shock all New Yorkers." 

"It is simply impossible for ACS to provide vulnerable, traumatized children — especially children with complex medical needs — with the individualized care they deserve when they are placed in an overcrowded institutional setting," Freedman said. "ACS and the State must never warehouse children, even for 24 hours, in an institution when they should be with a family." 

"We will continue to pursue all possible legal remedies to hold the government accountable," she added.

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