- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Growing concerns about the safety of foster children under the supervision of the District’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) haven’t shaken D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ confidence in his new deputy mayor, who until last week headed the troubled city agency.

Mr. Williams, responding to questions from The Washington Times, defended Deputy Mayor Brenda Donald Walker, the former head of the CFSA — a city bureaucracy facing new scrutiny over the case of a 7-week-old baby injured by one of the agency’s foster mothers and another baby suffocated by his foster father.

“If you take the measures in terms of what they set out to do and where they have come, I think she’s done a good job,” said Mr. Williams, a Democrat.

Mrs. Walker, who replaced Neil Albert as deputy mayor for Children, Youth, Families and Elders, began her job on Monday, less than a week after 7-week-old Rafael was admitted to Children’s Hospital Center with several types of bleeding, broken bones, a fractured skull and symptoms of shaken-baby syndrome.

On Tuesday, a 1-month-old D.C. baby died when his Prince George’s County foster father, who was in the process of adopting him, rolled on top of him in his sleep.

“These things are horrible as they’ve happened. One appears to be an accident, the other one obviously is being investigated and people should be held accountable,” Mr. Williams said.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, a Ward 4 Democrat who is running for mayor, predicted that the deputy mayor post would be a better fit for Mrs. Walker.

“She really has training in management, and that was more of a position of subject matter expert,” he said. “I think it may end up being a better position for her skills and talents because a deputy mayor position done right should be 100 percent management. It should be making sure people are doing their job and doing it right.”

Uma Ahluwalia, the Child and Family Services Agency’s interim director, is expected to be nominated by Mr. Williams to replace Mrs. Walker.

Mrs. Ahluwalia resigned in April from her position as head of the Washington State Children’s Administration, which oversees child protective services, under pressure from that state’s governor, Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, after the deaths of numerous children and a budget overrun of $12 million.

She is also former deputy director of the Prince George’s County Department of Child, Adult and Family Services and has served as special assistant to the chief of staff in the Maryland Governor’s Office.

Mr. Fenty, who is the chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said Mrs. Ahluwalia would be stepping in under “questionable and troubling circumstances.”

“If they nominate her as the permanent director, she will have a very tough confirmation process,” he said.

Under Mrs. Walker’s tenure, the agency, which was returned to D.C. control in 2001 after being in court-appointed receivership since 1995, has been accused by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) of violating the association’s code of ethics by allowing children to sleep in the agency’s offices, a practice documented by Shirley Tabb, a CFSA social worker who was fired for speaking out against the agency, on tape and in photographs.

“The recent videotape that showed children sleeping in a government office under office furniture and without proper supervision was of great concern,” said a letter from NASW to Mrs. Walker. “Not only does the incident … violate the NASW Code of Ethics regarding commitment to clients, but it is also in conflict with the standards to which foster and biological families are held to around the country.”

Mrs. Walker was appointed to director of CFSA after serving as chief of staff under Olivia Golden. Mrs. Golden was the first director appointed to the agency after it came out of receivership in 2001. The agency, however, is still required to meet court-ordered performance deadlines through December 2006.

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