A report released by the State Office of Children and Family Services shows Oswego County did a poor job of investigating three complaints about Erin Maxwell's living conditions. Those complaints came to the state's central registry hotline in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Oswego County Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Fran Lanigan requested this high level review. As Oswego County lawmakers and the media poured over the report Wednesday morning, DSS officials said despite the poor review, the three investigations would not have saved Erin's life. "I don't think we can make the connection that whatever the department's shortcomings were in their investigations led to the death of Erin Maxwell." legal counsel Kevin Caraccolli told lawmakers.
On August 30th, 11-year-old Erin Maxwell was found hanging by a rope in her home in Palermo. State Police said she lived in deplorable conditions in a house full of animals garbage and feces. The state report concluded that while caseworkers appropriately assessed Erin's safety, they did not make adequate contacts with the girl's teacher, school or extended family concerning her risk of future abuse and mistreatment. They also did not even correctly identify the relationships of family members. Some legislators asked Commissioner Lanigan why caseworkers didn't go back into the home after the last complaint two years before Erin's death. "There are issues regarding privacy." Lanigan explained, "I'm saying the family doesn't have to let us into the house."
The report points out the last complaint received about Erin Maxwell was back in 2006 and implies other reports should have come in. Without mentioning the Phoenix School District by name, Commissioner Lanigan emphasized that schools are mandated to report suspected abuse to the state registry's hotline. "From my perspective, I would have anticipated there would have been a call to the register between 2006 and 2008. There was none that came to our attention."
Lanigan says had caseworkers received another report, they would have tried to get Erin out of that house.
Wednesday afternoon, Phoenix School Superintendent Rita Racette issued a statement applauding the state investigation, but added, "we wish to reiterate that the District and its staff acted appropriately at all times in its interaction with both law enforcement and public agencies regarding this devastating event."
Racette says the District concurs with recommendations in the report that DSS should continue to work with local school districts related to reports of child abuse.