- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

Ernestine F. Jones announced Oct. 12 that she will resign as the court-appointed head of the District's Child and Family Services Agency effective Nov. 30. She says she made "considerable progress" during her three years there, that it was a "pleasure" working there and that now is the "right time" for her to step down. Mrs. Jones did not elaborate on why the time was right. But it became fairly obvious 10 months ago that her days were numbered.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan appointed Mrs. Jones receiver in October 1997. Like her predecessor, Mrs. Jones' mission was to reform the long-troubled child-welfare agency, which has been under various forms of court intervention since the late 1980s due to a plethora of problems. The city routinely violated various federal laws, failed to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, had no accurate count of children in the system, paid families and vendors late, paid families who no longer had foster children in their care, literally could not keep up with the children in the system, and failed to meet court orders and deadlines. Mrs. Jones, herself a former social worker, had practically unilateral authority over budget decisions, staffing decisions and policy decisions.

In recent months Mrs. Jones scuffled with advocates, Congress and the courts. In September, House members questioned whether she had made any reforms following a report by the General Accounting Office that said since May, the agency failed to investigate 1,200 reports of neglected children. It also said the agency failed to investigate complaints within 24 hours, to complete investigations within 30 days, or to monitor neglected and abused children some of the same troubles that led Judge Hogan to place the agency in receivership in 1994. In August, U.S. marshals arrested Mrs. Jones at her home in Odenton, Md., after she defied a D.C. Superior Court judge and failed to appear at a court hearing regarding a child in foster care. Believing she was immune from local court orders, Mrs. Jones filed a lawsuit, but later withdrew it and apologized to the judge.

One of the most marked failings of Mrs. Jones' tenure, though, was the January slaying of Brianna Blackmond, a 23-month-old foster child. The judge in that case had to decide whether to grant Brianna's mother a petition that Brianna be returned to the mother's care. Social workers were aware of drug charges pending against Brianna's mother. But they failed to appear in court to speak on the child's behalf. The judge turned Briana over to her mother. Little Brianna, one month shy of her second birthday, was killed days later in her mother's home.

Judge Hogan plans to appoint another full-time receiver, and that speaks volumes about the "considerable progress" Mrs. Jones proclaims to have achieved.

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