- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Members of a D.C. Council committee voiced tentative support yesterday for acting Human Services Director Yvonne D. Gilchrist during a preliminary hearing on her confirmation, but the panel’s chairman expressed dissatisfaction with the nominee’s plans for the troubled agency.

Miss Gilchrist testified yesterday before the council’s Human Services Committee, headed by Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat.

Questioning focused on Miss Gilchrist’s plans to repair what Mrs. Allen called the department’s “many programs on the brink” including a youth-services system with “children falling through the cracks.”

Miss Gilchrist, who took charge of the agency June 16, said she would establish “plans, timelines, goals and visions” to improve to performance. But Mrs. Allen and other committee members said they had hoped to hear “concrete plans.”

“You will find that I am not one to shy away from challenges,” Miss Gilchrist told the committee. “I embrace challenges. I embrace change.”

Committee members publicly said they back Miss Gilchrist for the $140,000-a-year job, but privately said they have reservations.

The panel must issue a report supporting or opposing her appointment and send it to the full council for a confirmation vote. No date has been set for a committee hearing on the report.

The full council must take a confirmation vote by Nov. 1 or the appointment automatically takes effect.

Yesterday the committee did not press Miss Gilchrist about her performance at the Baltimore Department of Social Services (DSS), where she served as director for eight years before taking the D.C. job.

The Washington Times first reported in June that Miss Gilchrist’s former agency was targeted for reform by state officials and under investigation for the death of a 15-year-old girl in foster care last year.

Other DSS problems reported by The Times:

• A May 2002 audit by the Maryland General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services raised “significant questions” about the monitoring of foster-care children, including failures to conduct adequate criminal-background checks on prospective foster parents.

• The state in May 2000 settled a class-action lawsuit against DSS for denying appeal rights to people cut off from welfare. As a result the city offered more than 10,000 Baltimore families a chance to appeal, and reinstated benefits for others pending appeals.

• A University of Maryland 2002 study found an inordinate number of people left Baltimore welfare rolls because of administrative problems, not because they found employment.

• The federal Office for Civil Rights found some DSS offices didn’t properly screen welfare recipients for mental disabilities, didn’t refer disabled persons to special-aid or rehabilitation programs, and didn’t conduct follow-ups in welfare-disability cases.

In written testimony to the committee, Miss Gilchrist said the case of the girl who died in foster care was outside DSS jurisdiction, noting a court order that placed the girl in the custody of a possibly mentally ill guardian.

The class action resulted from DSS following procedures set by the state, Miss Gilchrist said, adding that deficiencies in the appeals process were quickly corrected.

The University of Maryland study did not suggest deficiencies in Baltimore, and the people who get jobs often don’t make social-service appointments and get dropped from the rolls, she said.

The Office of Civil Rights found DSS offices in “substantial compliance,” though its “evolving program to serve the disabled” needed improvement, Miss Gilchrist said in written testimony, adding that improvements were subsequently made.

“I’m troubled by the problems she had in Baltimore Human Services,” said council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. “There are nearly 2,000 people working in the Department of Human Services, and you’re telling me that not one of those people is as good a candidate as Gilchrist?”

Committee members gave Miss Gilchrist their support. “I am sure you will be confirmed,” said Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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