City Paper is not for tourists
This past Monday, D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency was back in U.S. District Court. At issue: the pending contempt of court motion filed by Children’s Rights as well as the city’s insistence that court oversight be stopped.
CFSA continues its rough luck of coming into these hearings having to face down a critical news story and/or a critical report by an outside monitor. One CFSA official contacted by City Desk admits the oversight should remain in place. They write in an e-mail:
“Overall I think that court oversight is still needed. I don’t normally agree as a matter of course that any court should be in the business of running a government agency, but D.C. seems to be the exception. The current administration in the city will find ways to circumvent the law and regs if given the chance.”
Prior to this hearing, the Post published a piece on the agency’s dreadful record on adoptions. CFSA appears on its way to posting far fewer adoptions than last year. In comparison, Maryland and Virginia have posted far higher adoption rates, the Post noted.
City Desk asked the CFSA official about the adoption issue. Here is what they wrote to us in an e-mail:
“First, the previous administration dismantled the adoption department. Why they did so is something that none of us ever understood. It worked and adoptions were at an all time high. Predictably, they obtained far fewer adoptions. Secondly, the agency changed its emphasis from adoption to legal guardianship. This meant that cases in which a very young child-infants included-are no longer first considered for adoption, but for legal guardianship.”
On June 22, University Legal Services published a huge report titled “Out of State, Out of Mind: The Hidden Lives of D.C. Youth in Residential Treatment Centers.” The report couldn’t have provided a more damning look at how the District treats at-risk kids.
The report noted in its introduction:
“At any given time, the District of Columbia pays for approximately 300 to 550 children who have been diagnosed with a mental illness to attend institutions called Residential Treatment Centers (“RTCs”), congregate institutions that tend to be far from the District, expensive, abusive, and most importantly, generally ineffective. Recently, the District published a report stating that 515 individuals under age 22 were in 96 different RTCs. Approximately 35% of these youth were more than 300 miles from the District of Columbia.”
The report goes on to state that the only state with a higher percentage of children in RTCs is South Dakota.
One of the RTCs employed by the District used physical and chemical restraints. Restraints and seclusion are typically used on children at these facilities. They also, the report noted, cost a lot of money. How much? $250 per day per child (this figure does not include a separate fee for schooling).
Just before the hearing, Children’s Rights reviewed more of the city’s data on children. They discovered at least one troubling statistic.
Marcia Robinson Lowry, Children’s Rights’ executive director, tells City Desk that she found that nearly 20 percent of foster children in CFSA’s care reside in unlicensed foster homes. “That is getting worse,” she says. “I wonder how much progress the agency is making.”
You have to pity Judge Thomas Hogan. The court case has been on his desk for a long time. And this hearing, according to Lowry, played out much like the others. The District presented its own charts and figures that showed some kind of progress. And again made the argument that it had closed out its post-Banita-Jacks backlog.
Hogan had been quite critical of CFSA and the District’s compliance at the previous hearing. As with that hearing, he concluded without issuing a ruling on the contempt motion or the case itself. No new court date has been set. Consider this a small victory for the District’s filibustering.
“The District is clearly committed to litigating this as far as they can,” Lowry says. “The question will be whether or not they will be sucessfull.”
Lowry says that the District continues to ignore Children’s Rights. Cooperation between the two sides does not exist. The next big action may come from the court monitor. The monitor is expected to review how well CFSA investigates neglect/abuse cases.The monitor last looked at these investigations in 2007; it found significant gaps in the agency’s work.
Perhaps my CFSA source sums up the on-going problems best. They concluded one e-mail this way:
“There are some improvements over the lowest point from last year, but there are intrinsic problems that remain and there is no movement to change or even recognize these other problems. I have always said, that the problems of the neglect system is a three-headed monster. The agency, the legislature and the judiciary. But, LaShawn has only sought to address one of these 3 heads, so a proper change will never occur within a reasonable time and I don’t think a decade plus counts as reasonable.”