- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency cannot meet court-mandated performance deadlines unless it receives $3.9 million not included in Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ proposed fiscal 2007 budget, says interim Director Uma Ahluwalia.

Mrs. Ahluwalia told city officials during an April 3 budget hearing the agency needs the money for the city’s seven Healthy Families/Thriving Communities collaboratives, which help at-risk residents in some of the District’s poorest neighborhoods and connects family members to children already in the system.

The agency has been under scrutiny since 1989 when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, known as LaShawn A. v. Williams, against the city.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the foster children, contended the District was negligent in providing for the children under its care.

The agency was placed in court-appointed receivership in 1995 and returned to the city’s control in 2001.

In 2003, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan ordered a plan that would outline how the agency would improve. That plan also included a deadline of Dec. 31, 2006, to meet those performance goals.

The goals included reducing the number of foster children in group homes, hiring more caseworkers and staff, shrinking the backlog of foster children in the court system, and speeding investigations.

Court-appointed monitor Judith Meltzer last fall told D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and chairman of the committee that oversees the agency, that she feared the agency would not meet the goals.

Last week was the first time Mrs. Ahluwalia acknowledged the fact.

Mr. Fenty, who is running for mayor, said he would try to get the additional money to supplement the agency’s proposed $251 million budget for fiscal 2007.

“The goal is to do anything possible to meet the goals,” he said. “It’s got to be guaranteed. The prudent thing to do is to put the money in.”

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, said he is not worried about agency officials making the deadline because they have made overall progress.

“They’re making great progress, and I think that this will be reflected with their arrangements with the court monitor,” he said. “Though they haven’t met all their standards, if you look at their record, they’ve made tremendous progress.”

The agency is being scrutinized again after several recent incidents including a 7-week-old being severely abused last fall; an infant under city care accidentally dying in a foster home in Maryland; and the disclosure that the agency regularly allowed children to stay overnight in its Southeast office building.

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