City Paper is not for tourists
In today’s WaPo, Child and Family Services Agency Director Roque Gerald finally responds at length to a series of critical pieces about his agency. Some of the recent pieces argued that the agency doesn’t respond adequately when calls are made to its hotline, that residential treatment centers are overused, and with my own story on Jumiya Crump, that residential treatment is not only overused but harmful. Gerald is hardly the Cathy Lanier of the social-safety net. He has zero name recognition for a reason—-you hardly ever hear a peep out of him. He rarely grandstands or even grants interviews. So I eagerly read his piece.
I found at least one noticeable issue. Early on, Gerald claims: “A reduction of the number of children placed in residential treatment centers, from an all-time high of 148 in 2007 to a historic low of 44 in 2010.” Unless his number of kids in RTCs has dramatically dropped in the last few months, he’s wrong. According to CFSA documents submitted to its long-standing court monitor, the agency had more than 70 children in residential placements as of Aug. 31.
I had asked Gerald and others at CFSA about this discrepancy a few months ago. What I got was a bunch of nonsense. It basically amounted to this bizarre logic: Some residential placements were counted as residential placements for the court monitor and not for their own in-house stats. It was also clear that some facilities that were considered RTCs by our own juvenile-justice system got no such designation by our own child-welfare agency.
What is clear: CFSA’s numbers game is a horrible way to monitor residential placements.
Recently, Gerald was told that he would have to re-apply for his job as agency director. This may or not be a concern for Gerald. I know at least one other agency head who received such a letter from Mayor Vincent Gray. It all could just be standard. Still, it might account for Gerald adopting Gray’s rhetoric and alluding to the events in Tuscon to make his case:
“But we know we must push for continued improvement, and Mayor Vincent Gray’s vision of “One City” provides an excellent framework for open discourse and development of lasting solutions that strengthen the local safety net. At the CFSA, we must do our part by deepening our commitment to address these issues, in collaboration with our partners. Constructive discussion that identifies system strengths and seeks solutions to the deeply rooted social ills that place children at risk has never been more necessary than at this critical economic time.
True community development includes investments in infrastructure and human capital. A return to civility in our discourse can help in avoiding complacency and feelings of defeat stemming from the challenges. The child welfare system will benefit most by accepting valid criticism that also acknowledges the social challenges and systemic improvements that form the real-world context for further growth.”
What is so startling about this last graph is Gerald’s implication that criticisms of his agency haven’t been civil. Nor are they valid unless loaded down with “real-world” caveats. Is there another agency head who every time he screws up gets to say “but life is hard?”
Does Gerald actually think Carl Foster, who runs a non-profit and wrote a recent piece critical of CFSA, is not civil? Foster was being incredibly brave when he wrote that piece. Few non-profits ever go on the record for fear of losing funding. His account of trying to get help for one child and one family through the hotline was a harrowing example of social-worker indifference.
Does Gerald actually think Jumiya Crump, the 17-year-old in my story, was being impolite when she pleaded with her social worker to live with her own family?
Actually, if you think about it, when it comes to serious questions concerning child neglect and a city’s lackluster response, we should be anything but civil.