By Rick Pezzullo
Ten former residents of The Children’s Village residential treatment center in Dobbs Ferry have taken legal action, accusing staff, administrators and older residents at the home for troubled boys of sexual and physical abuse over a 25-year period.
The victims, who were all emotionally disturbed young boys when they were placed at the Children’s Village by courts or child welfare agencies, allege in lawsuits they were physically brutalized, raped, and humiliated by older residents, while similar sexual abuse was perpetrated by staff, including teacher aides, counsellors, and a former executive director.
When the boys complained to social workers or other staff about the physical and sexual abuse, they allege were either ignored or threatened with violence.
“These children were typically brought to The Children’s Village to remove them from abusive or neglectful conditions in their families’ homes with the goal of healing their traumas. Instead, their victimization continued and escalated to horrifying proportions,” said attorney Robert Greenstein of Greenstein & Milbauer, LLP. “These victims have endured—and continue to experience—fear, shame and pain. It has taken them years to step forward and tell their stories.”
The lawsuits accuse The Children’s Village of negligence in its hiring, training, and supervision, among other failures, from about 1970 to 1995.
The cases, which are being heard by Justice Steven M. Jaeger at the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola, were filed under the provision of the Child Victims Act. Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims to ensure survivors of childhood sexual abuse had a path to justice, including the ability to file a case which had already been time-barred or expired for a one-year period. The window to file an expired or time-barred case was set to close August 14, 2020, but due to the disruption of the legal system by the pandemic, the deadline has been extended until August 14, 2021.
One of the plaintiffs, Scott Sartory, who was in attendance at a recent press conference with other alleged victims, arrived at The Children’s Village when he was six years old around 1985. He claims he was forced to shower and expose his rectal area to employees. He was eventually befriended by a Children’s Village employee who adopted him around 1989 and then moved him into his home in Queens, where Sartory alleged he was brutally sexually abused. He ran away from the home and became a homeless youth until he reached adulthood.
Another plaintiff, Anthony Bruno, arrived at The Children’s Village when he was about five years old around 1989. The same employee who adopted Sartory also became Bruno’s foster father. Bruno alleges he was forced to make pornographic videos by his foster father, who also brutally sexually abused him at his foster father’s home. Like Sartory, Bruno eventually ran away from home.
When contacted about the allegations, Peter Sobel, a senior communications officer at The Children’s Village, issued the following statement: “As a leading child welfare agency, the safety of children in our care is our top priority. We are heartbroken by these allegations. Every child deserves and needs to feel safe, secure and supported, and that’s what we work hard to achieve every day.”
At The Children’s Village campus in Dobbs Ferry, approximately 300 children, ages 12 to 20, live at any given time, with lengths of stay ranging from 30 days to 12 months. The campus also has apartments for staff, which house approximately 114 staff families. There is a public school that serves the residents and children from the surrounding communities; a job training programs that give residents experience in dog training, barbering, cooking, and other skills; a recording studio; full recreation center; greenhouses and community garden; and other facilities.