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NYC hiring LE workers at child welfare offices after girl's death

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday that he is adding a law enforcement presence to child welfare field offices _ one of several reforms intended to plug the cracks in the system revealed after a 7-year-old girl was killed.

Authorities say Nixzmary Brown was tortured, abused and beaten to death by her stepfather on the night of Jan. 10 _ even though reports of her suffering were known to workers at several agencies, including schools, police and child welfare.

"Every one of those contacts was a missed opportunity to help her," the mayor said.

Nixzmary's killing has reverberated throughout the city. Hundreds of strangers showed up at her funeral, and the case has been a daily fixture in the tabloid newspapers. It also forced a major shake-up at the city's child protection agency.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg said the Administration for Children's Services will hire workers with law enforcement experience, such as retired police officers or former assistant district attorneys. The new positions will be spread throughout the agency's 14 field offices.

City officials have long struggled to coordinate the police department and ACS, two agencies that operate quite differently but often cross paths.

A decade ago, after a 6-year-old girl was killed by her mother, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration created instant response teams and laid out protocol for caseworkers to involve police officers in the most serious allegations of abuse and neglect.

Bloomberg and ACS Commissioner John Mattingly said Tuesday that child welfare workers did not follow that protocol while handling Nixzmary's case despite the many red flags, including repeated absences from school and suspicious injuries.

The mayor said he directed Mattingly to work with police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs to review and improve the instant response team system.

"We have to do a lot better job of working alongside the police in very high-risk cases," Mattingly said.

He said he welcomes a direct involvement by law enforcement at child welfare offices, where frontline caseworkers currently receive no investigative or criminal procedure training. The new legal professionals will train workers and supervisors, add a measure of support on difficult cases and provide that critically different perspective at a much earlier stage.

"We need to make sure that we take advantage of every possible chance to help a child," Bloomberg said in describing the new program.

Other changes announced Tuesday include an additional $16 million (euro13 million) in funding for child protection, more ACS caseworkers and the creation of an ombudsman to act as an "outlet for people who don't think their warnings are being heard," the mayor said.

Stepfather Cesar Rodriguez, 27, and Nixzmary's mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, 27, are charged with multiple felony counts, including second-degree murder. Rodriguez also is accused of molesting Nixzmary and abusing her five siblings.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Santiago's relatives said they didn't know what was taking place. They lost contact after Nixzmary moved from Puerto Rico to New York several years ago.

Several of Nixzmary's caseworkers have been suspended, disciplined or transferred.

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