- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

The Williams administration began reforming the District's child welfare policies in 2000. That was the year a 23-month-old toddler, Brianna Blackmond, was killed after her mother regained custody and also the year the District regained oversight of its child-welfare programs. Now another aspect of reform is about to take place, one proposed by Congress.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, will soon introduce legislation to revamp the District's family court programs. Specifically, Mr. DeLay wants to change how judges and lawyers are assigned to child abuse and neglect cases and end what advocates call revolving-door caseloads. For example, the case of a child who has been abused by the mother might be assigned to Judge Alpha. If that same child is later abused by his father then it is likely that case might be assigned to Judge Beta. If child-welfare authorities later find the same child is neglected by, say, his foster-care guardian, then a third judge might handle his case. In each instance the mother, the father and the child have different lawyers and different caseworkers, and there also is the likelihood that the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel, which handles such cases, would assign different lawyers as well.

Many of the 55 or so judges in D.C. Superior Court, though, do not necessarily agree. In their minds, they and they alone should have the final word regarding what happens inside the courts hallowed walls and inside their courtrooms. Interestingly, many of those same judges do not view family court as, well, a prestigious assignments.

The case of poor Brianna Blackmond was mismanaged from top to bottom despite the fact that every judge, lawyer and social worker involved knew well that Brianna and her siblings had been long neglected by their mother. What is even more startling is the fact that Brianna's mother, who is retarded, did not want the little girl back. (Her mother knew Brianna was too young for her to handle.) In end everyone except the foster-care family failed Brianna.

Mr. DeLay and his wife, Christine, are foster parents, and Mrs. DeLay works with Court Appointed Special Advocates, an organization dedicated to working out what's best for the child. Mr. DeLay says that he is "committed to this long term." Meanwhile, Mayor Williams, who was adopted as a young child, has shown he is, too. Let's hope, in the name of the 7,000 faceless children in the city's child-welfare system, that the reforms Mr. DeLay will urge are not brushed aside as Brianna Blackmond was.

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