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For more than a year, I’d been reporting out my cover story on residential treatment centers in secret. I hung out with and interviewed a ward of the District. I spoke with advocates, scholars, and bureaucrats in places like Tennessee and Wisconsin. I spent a day learning about how troubled kids’ cases are handled in Hampton, Va.
In each instance, I felt free to bring up the case of the city ward I’d been following.
I sympathized with Jumiya Crump, the then-16 year old I was chronicling. The other officials, the ones outside the District, did too. They were uniformly surprised that this teenager had relatives willing to take her in—and that she was nonetheless forced to live in a costly residential facility. As for the District officials actually in charge of her case? I wasn’t allowed to talk to them about Jumiya.
You see, the District government only allows reporters to interview child-welfare kids under the strictest conditions. City minders would have to handpick the kids and they would have to sit in on the interviews. This might be the worst possible way to get an accurate read on one of the city’s most troubled agencies.
Late Friday afternoon, a day after my piece ran, I’d heard that the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) had launched an investigation into who leaked information to me. So I called the agency to find out what was going. When I asked about this alleged leak case, the agency’s spokesperson Mindy Good replied: “We’ll get back to you.”
About an hour later, CFSA Director Roque Gerald called me.
Gerald denied that there was any such leak investigation going on. But he did say he was looking into Jumiya’s case. “I have done a top-to-bottom review,” he said. “She is a child who is needing some real support.” And that’s all he would say.
Matthew I. Fraidin, an associate professor at UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law, sees the irony in Gerald’s sudden top-down review: “While Jumiya’s life was kept secret, she was ignored and mistreated in every imaginable way,” he says. “This is not just about Jumiya. There are thousands of children in D.C. foster care, and we don’t know anything about any of them. It is long past time for the D.C. Council to take the simple action that more than 20 states have taken: open Family Court and let children’s stories be told.”
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.