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Graham targets child agency salaries

A D.C. Council member rebuked the District's child welfare agency for failing to identify what positions could be cut among the dozens of "memo writers" and "meeting attenders" making more than $100,000 per year, arguing it could free up money for key priorities facing the budget ax.

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said witnesses have described the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) as "top-heavy." He reminded the agency that earlier this year he directed them to identify cuts within its ranks of supervisors.

He made his comments at an agency budget hearing Wednesday, just two days after a federal court monitor's report said funding cuts at CFSA threaten "to derail the advances that have been occurring, although slowly, in building the District's mental health system capacity for children and families."

Mayor Vincent C. Gray's budget proposal only cuts the roughly $265 million CFSA budget by 1.6 percent, but rising costs have led to a $6 million reduction in money for services, including a $2.5 million cut in mental health services to children.

Mr. Graham said it was a bad time to put people out of work, so he asked for a description of the agency's 103 vacant, yet funded, positions.

"And give me a few sentences to justify each one of them," he said. "Obviously I'll want to go there first for savings."

Loren Ganoe, chief of staff at CFSA, testified a reduction in any personnel could significantly impact the agency's ability to meet its mandates.

"Well, we're going to have to do it, without your cooperation," Mr. Graham said. "You're on notice that we're going to cut some of these jobs to come up with some of the savings necessary."

Budget talks come at a time when CFSA is still under scrutiny from the horrific case of Banita Jacks, who was convicted of killing her four children in summer 2007 and keeping their bodies in an upstairs bedroom of their Southeast rowhouse until they were discovered in January 2008. The incident prompted then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty to fire several CFSA staff members for failing to recognize warning signs before the children's deaths.

The court-ordered report released Monday examines CFSA's progress in the second half of 2010, a requirement that stems from a 1994 order in a class-action suit now titled LaShawn A. v. Gray.

In her report, the monitor praises CFSA for making the adoption process more efficient and finding permanent placement for youths, but expressed concern about its ability to provide data and back-up documents on certain goals that must be met before monitoring stops.

The hearing Wednesday also revealed a divide between Mr. Graham and the agency on budget priorities, including a decision not to fund $675,000 in substance abuse services.

"We have a major problem in this city, which is booze and drugs," Mr. Graham said, noting substance abuse if often linked to child neglect and domestic violence. "I don't come out of this with the impression that CFSA is doing serious work on substance abuse. You have no outcomes, you have no report, you have no indication of what you're achieved."

In their defense, Ms. Ganoe said the agency has had to make difficult choices with few options.

Mr. Graham also requested a breakdown of results from CFSA's vocational programs for youth.

"I want to know what we're really doing to affect and improve people's lives," he said. "Visiting the White House is not a life skill."

A witness for CFSA said most of the program's participants go on to find employment.

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