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ACS Commissioner Breaks Down In Tears Before City Council Committee Probing Zymere Perkins Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The embattled head of the city's Administration for Children's Services broke down in tears at a City Council hearing on Monday.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the hearing was over the death of a 6-year-old Harlem boy. The New York City Medical Examiner's office ruled that Zymere Perkins' death was caused by fatal child abuse syndrome – meaning Zymere had evidence of acute and chronic abuse in the form of fresh injuries and old scars.

The Administration for Children's Services has come under severe scrutiny after it was revealed that the agency previously investigated five complaints of abuse and neglect involving Zymere before his death on Sept. 26.

On Monday, ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion was called by the City Council to explain how such a thing could have happened. She broke down.

"I have committed my entire career to helping children and families," Carrion said. "Losing a child is unbearable and it's my responsibility -- and one that I take seriously."

Carrion said that $200 million in cuts had crippled the agency and that it is now rebuilding.

"These are our children, these are my children," Carrion added. "Safeguarding children and supporting struggling families takes the collaboration of many."

Emotions ran high as the council explored how caseworkers for the ACS apparently ignored complaints and warning signs. On the day he died, Zymere was reportedly struck over and over with a broken broomstick by his mother's boyfriend, and then held underwater in a shower.

"ACS, in partnership with the Department of Health, will be launching a public awareness campaign that raises attention to the critical child safety issues," Carrion said in tears.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other members raised many questions about how an agency with a budget of nearly $3 million failed Zymere.

Public Advocate Letitia James took other city officials to task, charging that the Department of Education did not red-flag Zymere's case when he failed to show up for school in September. Such red flags were supposed to be required after the 2006 death of Nixmary Brown, who was abused and beaten by her stepfather.

"After Nixmary Brown, it was my understanding that when a child was missing school for a certain period of time, that it would be reported to ACS," James said. "Was that not in place at the time of Zymere's death – a murder?"

"This past week, we're making additional improvements to lower the threshold for our vulnerable population," said Ursulina Ramirez of the Department of Education.

"But does the assessment include absenteeism?" James said.

"Correct. The protocols we announced include absenteeism," Ramirez said.

"Those protocols should have been in the aftermath of Nixmary Brown," James said.

At the hearing Monday, there were many questions about the Perkins case that remained unanswered.

The administration's internal investigation is still on hold because the Manhattan District Attorney has asked it not to interview any employees in the Perkins case who could face possible criminal charges, 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported.

"That has not stopped us from doing a records review," Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio said, adding that it won't stop them from making changes based on what they find.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, some have called for Carrion's resignation as commissioner of ACS. Mark-Viverito said she still has faith in Carrion's leadership in spite of the emotional breakdown on Monday.

"For her it is very personal, as you can tell," Mark-Viverito said. "She is working hard to fix the wrongs that have existed.

Earlier this month, the ACS suspended four top officials for dropping the ball in the investigation. Five others were placed on modified duty.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced a series of ACS reforms, including new training for case workers; appointing an outside team to provide oversight of child protection; and giving guidance to teachers about reporting abuse.

Zymere's mother, 26-year-old Geraldine Perkins, and her boyfriend, 42-year-old Rysheim Smith, have been charged with child endangerment. Perkins had told police that Smith beat the boy with his fists and a broomstick.

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