- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — A District social worker fired after failing to follow up on a report of a neglected baby who later died had previously been disciplined and was carrying 50 cases with scant supervision, officials said Monday at a D.C. Council hearing.

The death of 6-month-old Isiah Garcia has again trained a spotlight on the city’s troubled Child and Family Services Agency since the discovery in January of four dead sisters in a Southeast rowhouse.

Six agency employees lost their jobs after the incident. The girl’s mother, Banita Jacks, has been charged with murder. Officials said the workers didn’t do enough to follow up on complaints about Mrs. Jacks’ treatment of the girls.

In Isiah’s case, the family services agency received a call about neglect in the home in March, and the baby died three months later. The cause of death has not been determined.

Child welfare advocates said after Mrs. Jacks’ arrest that the case would result in an increase in reports of abuse. They appeared to have been correct because the agency has struggled to keep pace with the increase.

Judith Meltzer, the agency’s court-appointed monitor, said reform efforts as a result are slipping. As of July 7, there was a backlog of 1,690 incomplete investigations that were not completed in the required 30 days.

“The mayor and [agency] leadership cannot wish this problem away, assume that it was solely because of one or several unproductive workers or believe that it is just a matter of time before the crisis recedes and things return to normal,” she said. “The fact is that today, caseloads of investigation workers are dangerously high.”

Of the 85 staff members handling investigations, 63 have more than the accepted national standard of 12, and 28 have 30 or more, Miss Meltzer said.

The fired worker, who has not been named, was carrying a load of more than 50 cases, said Geo T. Johnson, executive director of District Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents agency workers.

Questioned by D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Mr. Johnson confirmed the caseworker had previously been disciplined and suspended. Neither Mr. Wells nor Mr. Johnson provided details.

After the infant’s death, the caseworker told officials she had not contacted children in 17 cases. D.C. law requires initial contact be made within 24 hours.

Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, expressed concern that the caseworker apparently had little supervision, despite her previous problems.

The employee previously worked under a supervisor who was fired because of the Jacks’ case, said agency Director Sharlynn E. Bobo. After that, she was reassigned to a new supervisor. But formal, weekly supervisory meetings fell by the wayside as the agency struggled to clear the backlog of open cases, Miss Bobo said. The caseworker’s new supervisor has been suspended.

Mr. Wells also questioned why the caseworker kept getting assigned new cases, despite having so many open ones.

“You kept assigning her more cases, even though she had some difficulty in the past, even though she had been complaining about her caseload size,” he told Miss Bobo.

Miss Bobo said the agency plans an “all hands on deck” initiative in August, during which all social workers - even those who don’t usually carry cases - will be charged with closing three backlogged investigations. In addition, Miss Bobo said she is talking with other city officials about getting help from social workers in other city departments.

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