- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

A congressional subcommittee yesterday gave the city 10 days to create a plan to correct the deficiencies at the Child and Family Services Agency. Action to protect neglected and abused children is necessary before Congress would return the agency to District of Columbia control.

"I believe it is a miracle every time this city makes it 24 hours without the death of a child," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, reacting to a General Accounting Office report commissioned by the subcommittee on the District of Columbia, which he chairs.

If the subcommittee doesn't receive an action plan in 10 days, Mr. Davis said legislation will be introduced in Congress to protect children who should be protected by the agency.

The agency has been in receivership since 1994, but subcommittee members yesterday criticized it for poor record keeping, overworked social workers, tardy investigations, big staff turnovers and poor monitoring of children.

"I have been incredibly frustrated by the excuses and the sense of lack of urgency that I have seen in the last 10 months," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

The agency's general receiver, Ernestine F. Jones, was arrested last month and appears in D.C. Superior Court again this morning to determine if she is to be found in contempt for refusing to answer subpoenas explaining in court why a 20-month-old boy was not being monitored.

"I will say that I meant no disrespect for the judge," Mrs. Jones said. "I regret that this happened. You may be assured it won't happen again."

She is the second receiver for the agency, which Mr. Davis said "has continued to demonstrate extreme deficiencies in the delivery of expected services."

"Can Brianna Blackmond's death happen again?" Mr. Davis asked. Brianna, 23 months old and one of eight children, died in January after a judge ordered her returned to her mother, who previously had been charged with abuse.

"If little Brianna had been properly monitored and looked after by CFSA, she would be here with us today," Mr. Davis said.

Mr. DeLay, conceding personal interest because he and his wife are foster parents, said the agency reportedly failed to investigate 1,200 abused-children cases in June or July.

That is "horrible" and unacceptable because there are model child-welfare programs throughout the nation that provide such investigations and protection, Mr. DeLay said.

"We do not intend for [foster children] to be lost in government bureaucracy," D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. She then scolded special counsel Grace Lopes and Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham for asking the court receivership for approval of plans to correct the agency.

"I'm trying to kick that out of your brain," Mrs. Norton said, especially citing a recent agreement to place D.C. children in Maryland homes.

More than 3,100 D.C. foster children are forced to live in Maryland, said Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican.

D.C. and Maryland officials Tuesday signed an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, which governs placement of children in other states, Mrs. Graham said.

Mrs. Morella said restoration of the agency to D.C. control is vital to independence for the District, noting that the District is the only municipality in history with more than one agency in receivership.

Mrs. Norton said restoration of a well-functioning agency to the District would be another good and necessary step to home rule.

Since September 1989, the District has placed children in Maryland without following provisions of the interstate compact, said Linda E. Mouzon, executive director of Maryland's Social Services Administration.

The District now has 218 foster homes and contracts with private agencies for 536 foster homes in Maryland, Mrs. Jones said. There are 96 children in foster homes or group facilities in Virginia, she said.

Mrs. Jones said the agency has "made significant strides" in repairing child-welfare problems that have been plaguing the District for 15 years. The agency is beginning to investigate a complaint within 24 hours after it is received and to complete an investigation within 30 days.

The agency receives an average of 350 complaints each month, of which 40 percent are reports of abuse and 60 percent are neglect. Mrs. Jones said that 72 neglect cases and 74 abuse cases failed to meet the 30-day deadline at the end of August.

"This is the first time we have been able to accurately track what happens with abuse cases, and it is the lowest number of overdue investigations we have had since [receivership began]," Mrs. Jones said. She said the agency plans to hire 22 more social workers to catch up with a workload that includes 3,271 children in out-of-home care, including 1,903 placed with relatives, and 1,467 families with 4,246 children in other agency programs.

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