- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2000

It has been precisely one year, one year today, since Judge Evelyn E.C. Queen triggered a series of fateful events in the unfortunate lives of a toddler, the toddler's "mother" and a "friend" of the toddler's mother.

The judge remains on the bench of D.C. Superior Court. The toddler's "mother" and the "friend" are precisely where the law says they should be behind bars awaiting trial.

In case you're wondering why "mother" and "friend" are in quote marks, allow me to tell you a story. It is at once a sad and appalling tale with which you probably have some familiarity. It is sad because the toddler is dead. It is appalling because there should be two trials. One for the toddler's killers. The other trial would be for the "system" that allowed, dare I say encouraged, it to happen in the first place. The suspicion is cast at how quickly the social workers rid their caseload of the toddler.

The toddler's name was Brianna Blackmond, and Brianna had been in foster care for most of her life, which lasted 23 months. Brianna was in foster care, as were her seven siblings, because her mother seemed incapable of caring for them. The "system" first suspected as much a few years earlier. The "system" saw proof in June 1998, when caretakers of the "system" found Brianna's siblings foraging for food in the garbage, living in feces and sickly with ringworms in their Northeast Washington home. The "system" assigned a passel of judges, social workers, legal guardians, attorneys and assorted paper pushers accordingly. That's the way the "system" works.

Some months later, their "mother" was arrested on drug charges. She tried to get herself together though and, in 1999, after having a ninth child, began petitioning the "system" to have her children returned. No problem. That's the way the "system" is supposed to work.

But the "system" began collapsing around Brianna circa Thanksgiving 1999 a communications meltdown between the judges, lawyers, guardians and social workers. They knew, and most of them had agreed, that Brianna should not be returned to her "mother." None of them officially told the court. They failed to say so verbally, failed to say so in writing, and they didn't even bother to pick up the telephone. The judge signed the order on Dec. 22, officials remanding Brianna to the custody of her "mother."

On Christmas Eve social workers picked up Brianna from her foster home and dropped her off at the home of her "mother" and the mother's "friend." They didn't check out the home, didn't check out the "mother" and didn't check out the "friend." No one has ever seen the "system" work so efficiently.

Less than two weeks later Brianna was dead. Her "mother" and the "friend" said the toddler stumbled down the stairs. The medical examiner said the toddler was beaten about the head. A grand jury said the "mother" and the "friend" killed the toddler. The others who make up the "system" weren't brought up on charges.

They will have their day in court, though. The "mother," who apparently watched her "friend" beat the toddler, and the "friend" herself are scheduled to go on trial in D.C. Superior Court on April 28.

The prosecutors will not have an easy go, however. It will be hard trying to find 12 jurors in the blind about the Brianna Blackmond case. Also, at least two of the key witnesses are children of the "friend." Also at issue will be the state of mind of the "mother," who is retarded and has said she had not been trying to regain custody of Brianna, but her older children, who can bathe and cook for themselves.

As for the District's child welfare "system," The Washington Times has exposed how neglectful it has been since the late 1980s, and the American Civil Liberties filed a class-action suit soon after. A U.S. District Court judge appointed a receiver to take over and reform the "system" in 1995. The same court returned the "system" to the District in the wake of Brianna's killing. The Washington Post has been hot on the case since Brianna's killing.

The problems with the "system" are longstanding and well-documented: Poor relations between the child welfare system and D.C. Superior Court; children waiting for years before being adopted or reunited with their families; delays in approvals for new foster parents and backlogs for inspections of prospective homes.

Mayor Williams, who was adopted, has vowed to do what he can to fix the "system." That will not be easy, either. But for Brianna's sake and the sake of thousands of other children whose parents are incapable or unwilling, the "system" must be fixed.

Merry Christmas, Brianna.

E-mail:

simmon@twtmail.com.

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