- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said yesterday that as many as eight Child and Family Services Agency employees will be fired for failing to help four girls found dead last week in a Southeast row house.

CFSA had all the information that was needed,” Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, said at a press conference alongside agency Director Sharlynn Bobo and other city officials. “And that’s why we think the buck stops with CFSA.”

The firings follow the discovery Wednesday of the girls’ badly decomposed bodies and the subsequent investigation into whether officials missed signs that could have prevented the deaths. U.S. marshals found the bodies when serving an eviction notice at a home in the 4200 block of Sixth Street Southeast. The children’s mother, Banita Jacks, 33, who answered the door, was charged the next day with killing her daughters — ages 5, 6, 11 and 16. She told investigators that the children were “possessed by demons.”

Mr. Fenty said six agency employees — including a division director — would receive a termination notice yesterday. He also said two more could be fired as the investigation continues into the city’s failed efforts to find the children when they were still alive.

The Fenty administration declined to release the names of the employees and their positions, citing personnel rules.

“We deeply regret — I deeply regret — our failures in responding effectively and rapidly to this family,” Miss Bobo said.

Mr. Fenty said Miss Bobo will work to revamp policies and practices in the agency, including mandating that no cases of suspected abuse will be closed until a child is located.

He also said city officials at every level must accept responsibility for failures that led to the tragedy.

“If you’re looking for me to stand here and give you some excuse why this wasn’t detected earlier, [I’m] very simply not going to do it,” he said.

The CFSA received its first complaint about Miss Jacks and her family in July 2006 but did not follow up on the report because the family did not have a fixed address, city officials said.

Kathy Lopes, a social worker at Booker T. Washington Public Charter School Northwest, also called an agency hot line on April 27 with concerns about the family.

Miss Lopes attempted to visit the family after Miss Jacks‘ oldest daughter, Brittany, was absent from school, but she was not allowed inside the home.

On a recording of the hot line call released by city officials, Miss Lopes said Miss Jacks told her that she was not allowing Brittany to go to school because she thought she would run away. The social worker said Miss Jacks was “holding [Brittany] hostage in the home.”

Miss Lopes also called the Metropolitan Police Department’s nonemergency number April 30 to report her concerns and complained that she was transferred back and forth.

She said that the Jacks’ home, and the children whom she could see, appeared unkempt and that Miss Jacks showed signs of mental illness.

“It’s an urgent matter,” Miss Lopes told the dispatcher on a recording of the April 30 call. “CFSA is pretty much sitting on it. And I would like someone to go to the home and check out the home because I wasn’t allowed in it.”

Mr. Fenty lauded Miss Lopes’ efforts and said the CFSA erred by closing the case in May, after numerous attempts to get in contact with the family failed.

He said City Administrator Dan Tangherlini and acting Attorney General Peter J. Nickles were scheduled to meet yesterday afternoon with the D.C. inspector general, who will be conducting another review in the case.

The agency was under court receivership from 1995 to 2001, and its problems are not new to Mr. Fenty.

The agency was under his oversight from 2004 to 2006, when he served as Ward 4 representative on the D.C. Council and as chairman of the council’s Committee on Human Services.

In 2005, an assistant inspector general testified in a hearing before Mr. Fenty that CFSA “did not do a thorough job of investigating, documenting and reporting suspected child maltreatment incidents” at foster care facilities.

The agency also has been beset with numerous administrative problems, and was scrutinized after incidents in 2005 that included the abuse of a 7-week-old by a foster mother who sources said already had children removed from her care.

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