By MIKE LEE
On the evening of March 4, Administration for Children’s Services worker Patria Ayton was assaulted at her mother’s apartment building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side by a former client.
Ayton, a Child Protective Specialist and SSEU Local 371 member, suffered facial bruises in the vicious attack and received medical treatment.
For months, Ayton was harassed by the former client through letters and via social media. The female client even visited the local ACS Staten Island office where Ayton works, according to Local 371 President Anthony Wells.
“There were plenty of indicators there were problems. Too often threats are not analyzed or treated correctly,” he said.
The attacker was finally arrested on March 15, and charged in the attack.
“The former client was waiting for the CPS, and then physically attacked her. This was the culmination of over a year of harassment,” Wells said.
The attack followed a March 3 tire-slashing incident of a car belonging to another CPS worker from the ACS Staten Island office.
The union is pressing ACS management for more intervention when clients harass frontline workers at agency. The workers deal with sensitive cases involving at-risk children in New York City, and they work under constant stress in the course of their investigations of allegations of child neglect and abuse. Because of the nature of their jobs, CPS workers are at risk of attack whether they are on the shift or not.
SSEU Local 371 and DC 37 were at the forefront of the effort to toughen penalties against those who assault frontline ACS workers and other citywide social services workers at the Human Resources Administration. In 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law.
Although the ACS website claims that the agency would “never send a CPS — alone or with a colleague — into a situation that we believe could be dangerous,” the union says that management has denied numerous requests for assistance from Child Protective Specialists for ACS workers facing potentially difficult visits. The union is also demanding greater protection for ACS workers when clients engage in harassment or threaten them.
“A coworker assist is important. They give you another set of eyes, not only for safety issues but also for assessment,” said Wells, adding. “While this is a case with an ACS worker, we are looking at worker safety issues at all agencies.”