Why Didn’t de Blasio Insist on a Real Investigation?

The New York City Council held a dramatic hearing on the Incarnation Children’s Center matter in May 2005, and commitment was reportedly strong.  By this time, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), New York’s child protective agency, had just contracted with an outside organization to investigate its policies and procedures in enrolling city foster children in drug trials.  As chairman of the General Welfare Committee, wasn’t Bill de Blasio supposed to monitor and oversee this investigation?

de Blasio’s Response: None yet.

The Agency for Children’s Services contracted with a local nonprofit, the Vera Institute of Justice, to conduct an “independent review of ACS policy and practice” in enrolling city foster children in experimental drug trials.  That’s right–ACS paid an “independent” organization to investigate itself.  (See here just how independent of ACS Vera is.)  Vera took four years and $3 million to deliver its report in January 2009.  It admitted it had obtained none of the medical records of the children, after both the New York State Department of Health and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center rebuffed ACS’s requests on Vera’s behalf.

We share Vera’s concern about not getting to see the medical records.  Assuming that Vera was acting in good faith while trying to stay within some difficult laws, why didn’t de Blasio and his committee know it was having trouble, and if it did, why didn’t de Blasio seek all legal means to have the records released?  What were his legal authority and limitations as a member of the City Council?

But Vera’s behavior during the investigation calls its sincerity into doubt.  Investigative reporter Liam Scheff reports that, while being interviewed by Vera investigator Dr. Anne Lifflander, he handed her the names of several children used in the trials.  Lifflander disappeared to the restroom and emerged with instructions from Vera’s legal counsel not to accept this information. Vera later explained its reasons in a letter to Scheff, spelling out confidentiality concerns (correspondence in this matter is listed here).  We’re not sure how this fits into ACS’s plans, when it hired Vera, that the investigators would “seek to locate as many of the children as possible to ascertain their current medical condition. Concurrently, Children’s Services will conduct additional case record reviews to ensure that every child in foster care who participated in clinical trials has been identified.”

Why didn’t de Blasio act while the investigation was going off the rails?  Instead, he appears to have let Vera keep pursuing a pointless investigation, paid for by taxpayer money funneled through the very agency it was investigating.

The Vera report also falls back on a time-tested excuse for poor care of AIDS patients–that the children likely died of AIDS.  It’s hard to square this with some of the descriptions that came out–stories consistent with the documented, admitted, and atrocious side effects of the drugs involved.  None of these conditions are listed as AIDS-related conditions according to the CDC’s current definition of AIDS. (Click here for further discussion of the children’s ordeals.)