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'We Know The System Failed,' De Blasio Says In Wake Of Harlem Boy's Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The death of 6-year-old Zymere Perkins was heartbreaking, and outrage was strong when news broke that calls to help him fell through the cracks.

But even as Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to do better when it comes to the Administration for Children's Services, CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported the mayor still has not explained why officials ignored repeated allegations that Zymere was abused.

It has been nine days since Zymere's battered body was found in Harlem and brought to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Prosecutors said a preliminary autopsy showed the boy had several broken ribs, old injuries and was severely malnourished. Prosecutors alleged that he was beaten with a broom handle by his mother's boyfriend, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

"We know the system failed. And that's what we have to get at here," de Blasio said. "This many agencies and this many opportunities to save a child and yet it didn't work. It's as simple as that."

Perkins had apparently suffered years of abuse before he died on Sept. 26. Five cases of child abuse were reported to the ACS and yet nothing was done, Kramer reported.

In the nine days since, there have been many questions and still no answers, Kramer reported. The mayor said the city Corporation Counsel would not let him answer questions about the actions.

But Kramer persisted.

Kramer: "There were five separate complaints of child abuse. So I wonder, you know, if you find that acceptable, how it happened, and as the leader of this city, how you reacted to the fact that this child was lost despite the fact there were five complaints."

De Blasio: "Marcia, from my point of view as a father, first, it's unacceptable. It makes me extraordinarily angry. It makes me very, very angry because it did not have to be. And I will respect the fact that I can't -- not only for legal reasons, but for moral reasons -- I can't prejudge the case until there's been a full investigation. That's not fair to anyone involved."

As Kramer reported, the mayor's response offered no details about how Zymere's case was handled by the ACS, and how the five complaints of abuse were apparently ignored until the child turned up dead.

In the last week, as the Manhattan District Attorney's office brought charges against the boy's mother, Geraldine Perkins, and her boyfriend, Rysheim Smith, the actions of several city agencies have been probed, including the NYPD.

At ACS, five people were placed on administrative duty until the investigation is completed.

But the mayor said his lawyers would let him say no more for the time being, as the DA and police investigate the case against the mother and boyfriend. De Blasio did say, "People will pay."

Kramer: "When you say people will pay for this, are you talking about people in your administration?"

De Blasio: "I want to be very clear – if we find anyone didn't do their job, there will be consequences."

De Blasio did announce a series of ACS reforms – the second time he has done so during his administration.

As 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria reported, those reforms included:

• New training for case workers;

• Appointing an outside team to provide oversight of child protection;

• Giving guidance to teachers about reporting abuse.

ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion, who on Tuesday said despite a budget of nearly $3 billion the city could not protect all children, was remorseful.

"I am devastated by this tragedy. The death of one child is one too many," Carrion said. "There is no excuse. There never is."

Experts say the agency is severely flawed and staffed with many inexperienced social workers, who aren't properly trained to protect at risk children.

Dr. Jill Jones-Soderman, a psychiatric social worker and child advocate, told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez that Zymere's case is not unusual.

"There are thousands of children who are not reported -- they do fall through the cracks. The staff looking at them don't have the training, the expertise to know what is clinically, psycho-dynamically going on that would put the children at risk," Jones-Soderman said.

Jones-Soderman added that it's critical to give children a voice.

"They lose faith, they lose hope. One in ten children speak out about the abuse. Many others learn to adapt to horrendous circumstances," Jones-Soderman explained.

Experts also blame ACS failures on an increase in each workers' case load, which according to the city, went from eight children per case worker in 2013 to almost 11 children per worker this year.

Kramer reported there seems to be a pattern involving the ACS – a child dies under suspicious circumstances and reforms are enacted. It also happened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Kramer reported.

The big question is to get reforms right so it does not happen again, Kramer reported.

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