The System is Failing Our Children

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Levin calls for comprehensive and rigorous ACS review

NEW YORK – A heartbreaking pattern of child deaths has emerged over the last four months. We have mourned the losses of six year-old Zymere Perkins, three year-old Jaden Jordan, five year-old Michael Guzman, and four year-old Zamair Coombs. The constant in each is involvement with ACS that failed to save their lives. The system exists to protect the most vulnerable children in our City and the system is failing them. 

While I appreciate Mayor De Blasio’s consistent attention to reforms, identifying and addressing the system’s failures has to be his highest priority. The Administration for Children’s Services must undergo an independent and comprehensive review of policies, procedure, and staffing at every level of the agency. 

Following the death of Zymere Perkins, the City Council Committee on General Welfare, which I chair, held two hearings to examine City practices and procedures in child protective and preventive services and concrete recommendations emerged. In addition to reforms that ACS has already instituted, I sincerely hope the City will implement new procedures to ensure robust managerial review of casework, require bi-annual training of ACS and contracted provider staff, and invest more deeply in proven preventive services models. I also believe that it is critical to enhance ChildStat casework review with participation by the highest level of ACS citywide and borough staff in order to ensure maximum casework accountability. 

Further, it is unacceptable that the Governor’s budget proposes to cut funding that ACS receives from the State for child welfare and foster care services. These cutbacks are inexcusable.

The tragic deaths of these very young children are intolerable. This is an agency that must continuously evolve and so reforms must be ongoing to ensure ACS can benefit from fresh opportunities and meet new challenges. It is essential that there be rigorous accountability at each and every level in the child welfare system. ACS must ensure that every step is taken to ensure that all children and families involved with their programs have adequate support and resources to build and sustain safe and loving homes.

Families and Educators Deserve to Know

Council Members Levin and Johnson Introduce Bill to Strengthen Reporting on Toxic Clean-Up in City Schools

stephenlevin

NEW YORK CITY—Council Members Stephen T. Levin and Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would strengthen and extend reporting on detection and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New York City public schools.

“New York families and educators deserve to know when PCBs are found in their schools and to be assured that the City is taking swift action to protect their health and well-being,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Intro 1434 expands and extends critical reporting measures on City progress to remove PCBs-contaminated materials and keep schools safe. I thank New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their steadfast dedication to amplifying this serious health concern.”

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the highest standards of health and safety for our children,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “Every parent has the right to know when PCBs are detected in the classroom, and every Council Member needs to be equipped with this information so we can assist in the abatement process. Simply put, this legislation is going to keep us on track to create safer, healthier learning environments for our kids. I thank Council Member Stephen Levin, Rachel Spector and her team at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their outstanding leadership on this issue.”

Until PCBs were banned in 1979 because they were found to be a dangerous neurotoxic substance, they were commonly used in construction materials, such as light fixtures and caulking. Although no systematic testing has been done to verify the presence of PCBs, they are suspected to be present in caulking, lighting ballasts, and soil at hundreds of New York City. 

Exposure to heightened levels of PCBs may result in adverse health effects, especially for young children at a critical period of neurological development. Both the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency consider PCBs a known carcinogen. PCBs bind to nucleophilic cellular macromolecules in the body, such as DNA, RNA, and protein, which may elevate long term cancer risk through accumulated exposure. 

Intro 1434 would amend Local Laws 68 and 69 of 2011, legislation also sponsored by Council Member Levin, which created parental notification requirements when PCBs were detected in children’s schools and also required the City to report to the Council its progress in removing light fixtures contaminated with PCBs. The City’s removal of all PCB-contaminated light fixtures will trigger the expiration of the existing law, although many sources of PCBs are thought to remain. The newly introduced bill:

  • Maintains the current reporting requirement that the Department of Education must notify parents upon the discovery of PCBs in their children’s schools; and
  • Requires annual reporting to the City Council of all PCBs detected throughout the school system from sources including caulk, soil, and heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, as well as reports of steps taken to remove or remediate PCBs after detection.

The 2011 legislation was introduced after the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York Communities for Change, resulting in remediation of lighting containing PCBs in 883 schools and protecting over 500,000 New York City children and educators. 

“While the City has made critical progress in removing PCBs from schools as a result of our lawsuit, there is still more work to be done,” said Rachel Spector, Director, Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The presence of PCBs in caulk remains a widespread problem, and the City must keep parents informed about when these harmful chemicals are discovered in their children’s school and what steps they are taking to address it. The health of our children is at stake.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now overseeing the development of a long-term plan to address remaining PCBs from caulk and other materials in New York City schools. The EPA plan is unlikely to require testing or removal of all sources of PCBs, and will focus on mitigating risks of exposure. Future tests of soil, caulk, air, or other school building materials may reveal elevated levels of PCBs.

Mayor de Blasio Signs Legislation for Life-Saving First Responder Training

Mayor de Blasio joined by Council Member Stephen Levin, Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, Michael and Carmen Ojeda, and Robin Vitale of the American Heart Association. 

Mayor de Blasio joined by Council Member Stephen Levin, Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, Michael and Carmen Ojeda, and Robin Vitale of the American Heart Association. 

CITY HALL―Today, Mayor de Blasio signed a bill that will increase transparency about life-saving training for first responders in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Council Member Levin introduced the legislation in honor of 11-year-old Briana Ojeda, who passed away after suffering an asthma attack near her home in Brooklyn. The police officer who accompanied Briana to the hospital did not perform potentially life-saving CPR because he said he did not feel qualified to do so. In September, Briana would have celebrated her eighteenth birthday.

“In order to save lives, New York’s finest must receive the highest quality training in life-saving CPR and AED skills,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “This is a commonsense measure that would help to improve the chance of survival for victims of cardiac arrest. It will ensure that first responders are well-equipped to react with speed and skill so that they can continue to protect and serve New Yorkers.”

In January, the NYPD instituted a new basic life support curriculum, which includes such training as infant and adult CPR, AED use, overdose treatment, and hemorrhage control.  Introduction 83 will require the New York Police Department to publish an annual report on the number of officers and school safety agents who receive high-quality CPR and AED certification to ensure this critical training is ongoing. Today, two NYPD police officers were honored with a Proclamation from the Council for demonstrating the lifesaving power of CPR when they used the skill to rescue an unconscious baby in the Bronx.

“How would you feel if an officer told a frantic mother that she would have to wait for EMS in order to start saving her child’s life, while her child is dying in front of her,” said Carmen Torres, Briana’s mother. “Briana was an 11-year-old baby girl who happened to run into a police officer who couldn’t do CPR. Losing Briana has been a life sentence of depression, anxiety, and a broken heart. By passing this legislation, hopefully no other family will have to endure this pain that will never go away.”

“On behalf of the American Heart Association, I am thrilled at today’s approval of legislation to improve CPR certification for our city’s law enforcement,” stated Melinda Murray, member of the NYC Advocacy Committee for the American Heart Association. “Thank you, Mayor de Blasio and Council Member Stephen Levin for your championship of this important issue.  I lost my only child, my son Dominic, to cardiac arrest when he was just 17 years old. We also look forward to the day the Ojeda family finally secures the passage of Briana’s Law. Our hearts beat in unity for our children who were taken far too soon. We call upon the State Senate to follow the Assembly’s lead and help us make sure no more families experience this tragedy. Let’s pass Briana’s Law during this upcoming session.”           

The Council previously adopted Resolution 1181, calling on the state legislature to pass and the Governor to sign Briana’s Law (A. 4364-A/S.6717), a bill that would require that police officers are re-trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation every two years and demonstrate satisfactory completion of such training. Briana’s Law has passed the Assembly for four years, but the Senate has failed to move this bipartisan bill forward.

"It is imperative that police officers are adequately trained in the administration of CPR,” said Assistant Speaker Felix W Ortiz. “This easy to learn procedure has been proven to save lives in emergency situations and could have helped save the life of Briana Ojeda and others. The fact that the Police Academy had to reassign a CPR instructor after an officer recently testified he didn't feel confident in his CPR abilities proves the point that NYPD CPR training is inadequate."

“Briana's Law is all about saving lives,”said Senator Jack M. Martins, Senate sponsor of the legislation. “Police officers guard our safety and are often the first ones on scene whenever trouble occurs. Ensuring that the basic first aid training they already receive in the police academy is enhanced and periodically reinforced will help give them greater tools to save lives in situations where every second counts.”

"The American Red Cross is dedicated to saving more lives from cardiac arrest through raising public awareness and supporting educational programs that train more people in CPR," said Josh Lockwood, CEO of the American Red Cross in Greater New York. "Time is of the essence during cardiac emergencies, so the more people and first responders properly trained and certified in CPR, the better the chances of saving a life."

More than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home every year in the United States, with almost 90% resulting in death. However, if CPR is performed within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, an individual’s chance of survival can be double or even tripled. As such, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is supportive of further training for police officers.