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Author Topic: Child Agency Botched Cases, D.C. Report  (Read 992 times)


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Child Agency Botched Cases, D.C. Report
« on: Mar 05, 2005, 09:29:12 PM »

Child Agency Botched Cases, D.C. Report Says

By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page B01

Children in the protective care and custody of the District's child welfare agency might be at risk of further harm because the agency is mishandling suspected cases of child maltreatment, according to a report released yesterday by the city's Office of the Inspector General.

Investigators found that the Child and Family Services Agency did not have complete reports on children who ran away from residential facilities, were abused or neglected, or faced other suspected maltreatment. In at least six cases, a child died and the agency lacked a full accounting of the cause of death.

William J. DiVello, assistant inspector general for audits, told the D.C. Council's Committee on Human Services that the child protection agency needed to better manage allegations of maltreatment to ensure that children remain healthy and safe.

"If the incidents are not being reported in a timely manner, they can't be investigated properly, and it takes longer for the corrective actions to get underway," DiVello said.

Child and Family Services, which has about 3,000 children in its custody and monitors an additional 2,000 children, began to operate independently in June 2001 after six years under a court-appointed receiver. The inspector general's report examined agency practices over a two-year period, from 2001 to 2003, by reviewing 202 internal agency documents on suspected incidents of maltreatment. The incidents included deaths, suicide attempts, personal injury, accidents and absconding cases.

Investigators conducted a detailed review of 27 incidents and found that none of the reports was signed or dated, making it difficult to pinpoint when the alleged maltreatment occurred. In addition, foster-care providers in residential facilities did not immediately report incidents to the city agency; in one case, the delay was 42 days, the report said.

There were six deaths among the 27 cases, five of which occurred while children were in the agency's custody, DiVello said. Three of the children were younger than a year old, the report stated.

DiVello noted that the child protective agency made substantial progress in other areas, including lowering the caseload for social workers, but that it needs to take additional steps to deal with allegations of mistreatment of children in the agency's care or custody.

The inspector general's report included six recommendations, including that the agency complete, within 30 days, all investigations of alleged maltreatment reported to the agency's hotline. In addition, the report recommended that the agency reinforce existing policies requiring foster-care providers to report incidents within 24 hours.

Under questioning from the committee chairman, Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), agency director Brenda Donald Walker said she has accepted five recommendations. She said the agency has measures in place to address the sixth recommendation, which called for maintaining all forms related to allegations of maltreatment in one location. Donald Walker said that the agency will seek to have fines imposed against foster-care facilities that do not comply with the reporting requirements.

"The pace of change in this agency is so rapid that what was an issue even a few weeks ago, we're working on it," said Donald Walker, who was appointed interim director in April and confirmed in December. She noted that in 2002, the agency created an Institutional Review Unit that looks at the care of foster children in group homes and an office devoted to licensing and monitoring.

The inspector general's report is the latest to raise questions about the agency's progress in the years immediately after its return to city control. Among the findings last year by court monitor Judith Meltzer, deputy director of the District-based Center for the Study of Social Policy, were that problems with the child-abuse hotline and agency intake resulted in a backlog of child abuse and neglect investigations.

"Children learn what they live"


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