- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2000

Ernestine F. Jones, head of District of Columbia's long-troubled Child and Family Services Agency, who was arrested at her home in August, resigned yesterday.
Mrs. Jones did not give a reason for her resignation, effective Nov. 30, but said, "We have made considerable progress over the past three years," and "I am satisfied that this is the right time for me to leave … ."
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who listed improvements in the receivership since he appointed Mrs. Jones in the fall of 1997, said, "It is with the deepest regret that I today accept the resignation."
Mrs. Jones' resignation created little reaction on Capitol Hill, where the House Government Reform's District of Columbia subcommittee had demanded a plan of action within 10 days that would return the agency to local control.
"If it speeds return to city control, it is a good thing," said David Marin, information officer for the subcommittee, and for its chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.
Two U.S. marshals arrested Mrs. Jones at her Odenton, Md., home on Aug. 15 after she and social workers failed to respond to Superior Court subpoenas asking the agency to explain why it failed to check for three months on a 20-month-old boy abandoned by his drug-addicted mother.
Released on personal recognizance, Mrs. Jones returned to court Sept. 20 and apologized to Judge Kaye K. Christian, promising it wouldn't happen again because agency employees were informed they had to answer Superior Court summonses.
However, by then, one social worker failed to appear in court on Sept. 13. Mrs. Jones promised again to return to court for that failure next Thursday.
Various shortcomings have plagued the agency for about 15 years. In 1991, Judge Hogan ruled the child-welfare system was a "travesty" and, when the District failed to achieve federal standards, ordered it into independent receivership in 1995.
Criticism focused on the agency in January after Brianna Blackmond, one month shy of her second birthday, died while in the custody of her mother, who was facing drug charges. Agency social workers had failed to report to Superior Court about the potential danger, and a judge had ordered Brianna returned to her mother's custody.
Some improvements under receivership have increased annual adoptions from 60 to 329 this fiscal year, federal revenues from $8 million in 1992 to an estimated $60 million this year and agency staff from 135 to 396, including 259 social workers. Eight neighborhood collaboratives have been established to provide family-preservation services, according to Children's Rights, a national advocacy organization.
"Despite formidable challenges, the agency is a far better place today than it was when [Mrs. Jones] arrived," said Judge Hogan, explaining "the District's child-welfare agency was in an urgent state of disrepair" when she took over.
Still, in September, the General Accounting Office told a congressional subcommittee the agency missed deadlines since May for investigating 1,200 reports of neglected children.
That was when the subcommittee and Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and majority whip of the House, ordered authorities to design a plan within 10 days that would return the agency to District control and perfect child-protective services. If the plan was not prepared and presented, bills would be introduced in Congress to correct the situation, subcommittee members threatened.
The plan was submitted last week. The congressional subcommittee staff was encouraged yesterday after reviewing the emergency-action report that would return the agency to D.C. control, Mr. Marin said.
"Our staff left that meeting very encouraged by the city bringing the agency back under city control," Mr. Marin said. "All the pieces seem to be in place. All stakeholders seem to be behind a common goal of improving the agency."
The plan was prepared by representatives from the Superior Court, D.C. police department, Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office and various social-services agencies.

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