- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2000

You've read and heard so much about the District's troubled child welfare system over the years that you hope every horror story will be the last. Yet here's another making headlines now that a 2-year-old, Brianna Blackmond, is dead because she was lost in the shuffle among the people, including her legal guardian and a judge, handling her case.

Brianna was only a few weeks old in June 1998, when social service workers placed her and three siblings in foster care because of neglect. Having monitored the family's situation since the children were found rummaging for food in a dumpster a year earlier, caseworkers decided their home to be hazardous and their mother negligent. "Dirty clothes with feces and urine were frequently laying around the home, trash and debris on the floor of the bedroom in which the children were confined was observed on most visits … roaches and rodents (were) observed in … the kitchen where the food is kept and prepared," said a report by the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency that was quoted in The Washington Post.

The agency's report also said all four children had ringworm yet their mother, Charrisise Blackmond, did not give them medicine and they missed their doctor's appointments. School records, meanwhile, indicated the children were persistently tardy and absent which is understandable given the fact that the children told social workers they were unable to sleep at night "due to the noise and number of people moving around in their home."

Miss Blackmond, 31, meanwhile, was arrested on drug charges shortly after Brianna and the other children were taken away. Still, she tried three times to regain custody, but each time social service authorities and the judge said no, not yet. While Miss Blackmond's circumstances changed little, if at all, over the months, the judge's position did on Miss Blackmond's fourth attempt. On Dec. 23, D.C. Superior Court Judge Evelyn E.C. Queen tragically sided with her and ruled that Brianna should go back home. This despite the fact that there was, at that point, no evidence to prove that Miss Blackmond had changed, and there still is, at this point, no reasonable justification for the judge's ruling. Especially when you consider the fact that social workers had vigorously protested Miss Blackmond's attempts to get Brianna and her three older siblings.

Social service workers involved in the Blackmond case were on the job for the most part. They not only compiled the aforementioned and thorough report last summer, but at least one worker took an extraordinary step and wrote directly to Judge Queen, informing her of her "deepest concerns" if Brianna were returned home. That worker also said Brianna's legal guardian was seemingly disinterested because he had lost track of Brianna after she and her foster family moved into a new home last summer. The report, though, never made its way into Judge Queen's hands.

So Miss Blackmond got precisely what she wanted. On Dec. 23, Judge Queen granted her custody and Brianna's fate was set in motion. Two weeks later little Brianna died of head injuries. Her mother said Brianna fell down some stairs. The medical examiner rejected that claim, saying Brianna's head injuries were due to a fatal blow to the head. Police ruled the case a homicide and are investigating Miss Blackmond and two other adults who share her apartment.

There you have it. A "mother" who loses her four children because of neglect, a legal "guardian" who does not keep track of his client, vitally important information the judge never saw and a "judge" who lacks the foresight to inquire about the mother's parental wherewithal. In the end, they all failed Brianna. They must all be held accountable.

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