justice

Children’s Aid Society Ignored Girl’s Sexual Abuse for Years: Lawsuit

This Children’s Aid Society location on Southern Boulevard in The Bronx is named in the lawsuit.
This Children’s Aid Society location on Southern Boulevard in The Bronx is named in the lawsuit. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The Children’s Aid Society “knew or should have known” kids it was charged with caring for were being sexually exploited by an employee, a lawsuit claims.

The civil suit, filed Nov. 19 on behalf of an unidentified Bronx woman, alleges Collette Robertson, employed by the organization as a home health aide, worked with Alberto Yard to sexually abuse the child between 2006 and 2013.

Robertson and Yard, a former court officer, were convicted in federal court for conspiracy to sexually exploit children in 2016, and sentenced to 25 and 27 years, respectively.

No Background Check

The Bronx Supreme Court suit claims the Children’s Aid Society didn’t act on suspicions and complaints about the duo’s behavior. The organization also allegedly failed to run a background check on Robertson, or contact any of her references.

Due dilligance, as well as proper training and supervision, the woman’s attorneys say, might have prevented the sexual abuse, which including the taking of private photographs.

The plaintiff wasn’t aware the pictures existed until being told by authorities, her lawyer, Rebecca Greenberg, told THE CITY.

The revelation exerted a “devastating effect” on her client, Greenberg said.

“This came to light in large part because the feds knocked on her door,” Greenberg said. They then asked the woman to identify herself in the photographs, the lawyer added.

Greenberg’s client, who was one of several accusers in the criminal cases against Robertson and Yard, declined to comment.

The Children’s Aid Society said on Friday that it had not been served with court papers and declined to comment.

Nearly 13 hours after this story was published, the nonprofit sent a statement noting it fired Robertson after her 2013 arrest. The statement said she cleared a criminal background check in 2006, as well as periodic “child abuse screenings.”

“There is nothing more important to us than the well-being and safety of the children in our care,” said Anthony Ramos, a Children’s Aid Society spokesperson.

Child Victims Act Cited

The suit is among the latest stemming from the Child Victims Act, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February.

So far, just under 500 cases have been filed in courts citywide through the new law, according to the state Office of Court Administration. Around 50 have landed in The Bronx.

The law increases the window of time during which those who commit sexual crimes against children can be held criminally accountable.

The measure also allows victims to launch a civil suit before they turn 55, and gives those who’ve previously had their claims limited because too much time had passed a year to begin new legal action.

The state’s old laws “protected a lot of these types of organizations from any sort of accountability when it comes to childhood sexual abuse,” said Greenberg.

Survivor and advocate Brian Toale says the average age for an adult to disclose being sexually abused as a child is 52.

“I was 62 when I got to the place where I finally could own that it wasn’t my fault,” he told THE CITY

“When you do ultimately come forward,” Toale added, “there is such a deeply rooted relief, or release. My life completely changed.”

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