- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — State lawmakers said they will investigate the cases of 11 children who died under state care after a legislative audit found that officials failed to investigate reports of abuse, gave inaccurate reports of staffing numbers and provided unreliable information to advocates.

“There is a tremendous amount of concern,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said Monday. “There have been 11 deaths. These kids were under the protective care of the state, and they fell through the cracks.”

The Department of Human Resources, which oversees child welfare programs, including foster care, said the children died in 2004 as a result of abuse or neglect.

Lawmakers said they also would look into deaths that occurred last year.

The 2004 deaths included twin infant girls beaten by their teenage mother and her boyfriend, and an 18-month-old girl born to a drug-addicted mother.

Lawmakers said it had not been determined whether the 2004 deaths were related to problems detailed in the audit.

“We are going to try to get as much information as we can,” said Delegate Talmadge Branch, Baltimore Democrat and vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee and head of a legislative work group that focuses on child welfare.

“We are looking at a lot of hearings that are going to be scheduled. We will get some answers and hopefully find some way to keep these children safe.”

Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe responded to the audit in a Dec. 21 letter, saying he disagreed with some of the findings, including that the agency had provided incorrect information to advocates monitoring the Baltimore foster care system under a 1988 consent decree.

Spokesman Norris West said department officials disagreed with the auditors’ calculation of staffing numbers. Mr. West said the department has made “significant strides” to hire caseworkers and fill vacancies.

Rebecca Bridgett, acting executive director of the department’s Social Services Administration, which oversees foster care, said problems remain but added that progress is being made.

“Do we want to be at 100 percent? Yes,” Miss Bridgett said. “Are we there yet? No.”

Miss Bridgett, former head of social services in Charles County, replaced Wayne T. Stevenson, who resigned abruptly last month.

The audit found numerous problems in responding to reports of abuse or neglect, including investigations that were not started or completed in the time required by state law, and a lack of documentation showing whether supervisors had reviewed decisions to dismiss the abuse and neglect charges.

The auditors said the agency would have had to hire 130 more caseworkers and 26 additional supervisors to meet staffing requirements for the caseload found during a sample period last year.

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