Director of DYRS plans to step down

Hildum clears way for Gray pick

Robert Hildum, the interim head of the District’s troubled juvenile justice agency, announced his resignation Wednesday, clearing the way for Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray to appoint the agency’s fourth director this year.

Mr. Hildum told staff in an e-mail his resignation would be effective Friday and he would be returning to the city’s Office of the Attorney General, where he worked as a deputy charged, among other things, with prosecuting juvenile crimes before he took the job at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS).

He also alluded to the agency’s troubles in his e-mail.

“We all know how difficult a year this has been for the agency and its staff. The challenges were stress-filled as we had to manage through several tragic cases involving our youth, and now we face another leadership transition,” Mr. Hildum said. “Throughout it all, I’ve learned a lot from you and have appreciated your willingness to continue to perform your job at a high level - yet under difficult circumstances.”

Mr. Hildum, named to the post in July by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, was outspoken in his assessment of a department struggling to implement reforms that has been plagued in recent months with an epidemic of juveniles in its custody who have been arrested for homicide or been the victims of homicide.

The Washington Times reported last month that in a one-year period from Sept. 1, 2009, through Aug. 31, more than one in five homicides in the city involved a DYRS ward as either a victim or a suspect.

Mr. Hildum told The Times in recent interviews he had hoped to stay on as the permanent director of the agency, which oversees about 1,000 youths, has a staff of 600 employees and a $91 million budget.

A replacement has not yet been announced, but Mr. Gray’s choice for a new director will inherit a system that Mr. Hildum said appeared “top heavy,” was lacking in oversight, lacking in services and “seemed to reward noncompliance.”

Mr. Hildum was also candid in his criticism of the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a $46 million secure facility opened in June 2009. While it offers high-risk offenders an intensive nine- to 12-month program featuring counseling, education and job training, the state-of-the-art center has space for just 60 of the 900 DYRS wards.

“The moment we opened New Beginnings it was too small. And I’m struggling with that now,” Mr. Hildum said.

Among other problems he was looking to rectify, Mr. Hildum told The Times that case managers who optimally should be handling 25 cases apiece currently oversee about 40. He also said case managers often defer to, instead of direct, the community organizations meant to serve as liaisons to neighborhood-based service providers.

“There’s not a lot of administration and management. So what you have is a lack of oversight on a lot of these services,” he told The Times recently.

Even more fundamental, Mr. Hildum said, services to help at-risk children - perhaps the most critical component of the community-placement model the city has pursued - have not been in place.

Mr. Hildum, a former prosecutor who began working for the city attorney general’s office in 2007, replaced interim DYRS Director Marc Schindler. Mr. Schindler resigned after Attorney General Peter J. Nickles issued a scathing report on DYRS performance. Mr. Schindler had replaced DYRS Director Vincent N. Schiraldi, who left in January to take a job in New York City in the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

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