- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Mayor Martin O'Malley are investigating the case of a Baltimore girl found beaten and starved to death to see whether social services, school or other officials missed chances to save her life.
Mr. Curran has asked a deputy to look into whether the system failed Ciara Jobes, the 15-year-old who was found dead Dec. 11 in an apartment in southeast Baltimore.
Her guardian, Satrina Roberts, 31, has been charged with first-degree murder.
Mr. Curran has instructed Assistant Attorney General Catherine Shultz to examine:
The decision to put Ciara in the custody of a woman whom relatives describe as mentally ill.
Charges by family and two school officials that the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (DSS) did not follow up on reports of abuse.
The actions of school officials, who began trying to find out why Ciara had not shown up for school by late October, nearly two months after classes started.
"It's a tragedy, but what went wrong?" Mr. Curran said. "Was there something more that could have been done or should have been done in the guardianship? How about the school?"
DSS spokeswoman Sue Fitzsimmons said Miss Shultz routinely investigates cases that involve the abuse or death of a child because she serves as principal counsel for the state Department of Human Resources. The department is the parent organization for the DSS, a hybrid city-state agency.
An investigation by the mayor is more unusual but not surprising in such a high-profile case, Miss Fitzsimmons said. "He doesn't obviously get involved in many cases. It did happen in the city. It's a case that remains in the public eye and it was horrendous. These kinds of things are devastating to all of us," she said.
Mr. O'Malley said his office has requested records from homicide investigators, the school system and the DSS.
"We're doing our own internal investigation ourselves with an eye toward figuring out whether there are any improvements we can make that would prevent a case like this in the future from going undetected," he said.
Confidentiality laws governing juvenile matters and the pending homicide investigation might complicate disclosure of those records, but Mr. O'Malley said he hopes he can make them public.
"These are public institutions that perform the most important public function," which is protecting children, he said.
One question that officials hope to resolve is whether the DSS or city schools did not act on suspicions of abuse.
The girl's maternal grandmother, Iva Cruse, has said she made repeated calls to the DSS to report abuse but was ignored. A teacher and a guidance counselor at Southeast Middle School, which Ciara attended during the 2001-2002 school year, also suspected abuse in April and notified the DSS, school officials say.
But Miss Fitzsimmons has said the agency had no record of abuse reports about Miss Roberts, her guardian.
Miss Roberts had been Ciara's legal guardian for the past three years. She was given legal custody to protect the girl from a neglectful mother, a former drug user who had AIDS and died of cancer in July.

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