Sharlynn Bobo, the former head of D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency, died Saturday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Bobo was named CFSA director by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in February 2007 after holding two deputy director jobs at the agency. She earned advanced degrees in social work from Howard University and had spent more than 30 years working in the field.

Bobo’s tenure came to a sudden end last July, when she was unceremoniously replaced by Fenty, seven months after the Banita Jacks tragedy raised serious questions about the extreme casework backlog at CFSA.

According to family Web site postings, Bobo was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in early November.

In an e-mail sent to CFSA employees Monday morning (printed in full after the jump), interim director Roque Gerald praised Bobo as a “intelligent, thoughtful, capable, and courageous lady who devoted her life to the service of others.”

“Sharlynn left deep impressions on all of us who knew her,” he wrote. “Among many achievements, her contributions to CFSA over more than six years made a tangible positive difference to children and families.”

A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday at Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1225 R St. NW; visitation will be at 11 a.m., the service at noon. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

January 26, 2009

Dear CFSA Colleagues:

With great sadness, I want to share that on Saturday night, former CFSA Director Dr. Sharlynn E. Bobo died just a little over two months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. According to her daughter, she was peaceful, sleeping comfortably, and surrounded by family and close friends. All of us in the CFSA family mourn the passing of this intelligent, thoughtful, capable, and courageous lady who devoted her life to the service of others.

A celebration of Sharlynn’s life will take place this Thursday, January 29, at Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1225 R Street, NW. The sanctuary will open at 10 a.m., visitation with the family will be at 11 a.m., and the memorial service will take place at noon. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations, with details available at Type sharlynnbobo in the box under “Visit a CaringBridge website.”

Sharlynn left deep impressions on all of us who knew her, and we’ll want to take time to share those memories in the coming days. Among many achievements, her contributions to CFSA over more than six years made a tangible positive difference to children and families.

Sharlynn joined CFSA in 2002, as a member of the management team that CFSA’s first director Olivia Golden assembled. I was part of that team, and our charge was to lead the District’s newest cabinet-level agency in reasserting control of child welfare following six years of Federal Court receivership. Sharlynn came aboard as deputy director for Licensing & Monitoring, an important function faced with the challenge of administering new local legislation that, for the first time, required licensing of District-based foster homes, group homes, and independent living programs serving children and youth. She played a primary role in drafting licensing regulations; establishing, training, and directing a team of monitors; and ultimately achieving licensing of numerous homes and facilities before the deadline in the legislation. This work required both courage and determination as many long-time providers struggled to improve the quality of their facilities, staff, and record keeping. Many rose to the challenge; some could not and had to close. Many of us remember this as one of the watersheds in our pursuit of child welfare reform, a time when the push for new and better standards clashed with long-standing ways and entitlements. Through it all, Sharlynn stood her ground, doing all she could to ease the transition for providers while diligently upholding regulations. As a result, many children and youth CFSA serves gained safer, healthier placements in out-of-home care.

During this time, Sharlynn earned a Ph.D. in social work from Howard University. This fulfilled her personal goal to attain the highest level of preparation in a life long devoted to serving others.

During the administration of CFSA Director Uma Ahluwalia, Sharlynn became deputy director of Organizational Development & Practice Improvement (ODPI). She believed deeply in our agency Practice Model and worked to embed those principles and values throughout the agency. Mayor Fenty appointed Sharlynn as acting director early in 2007, and District Council confirmed her as the permanent director in November of that year. In her confirmation testimony, she listed as the agenda for her administration five themes that remain fundamental to child welfare reform: practice, permanence, performance, prevention, and partnership. As we think of Sharlynn, many of us will remember her grace under pressure following the Jacks tragedy in January 2008, her advocacy for CFSA staff as well as those we serve, and her deep commitment and faith during a dark and difficult period. She was instrumental in furthering the Partnership for Community-based Services, which developed an in-home practice model that Sharlynn characterized as “child-centered, family-focused, and community-connected.” Even after her departure from CFSA, she took great pride in the co-location last fall of 10 CFSA in-home units with the Healthy Families/Thriving Communities Collaboratives to implement this practice model and improve services to families at home.

Sharlynn believed in and advocated for a community-wide safety net as the best protection for vulnerable children. Here are her own words from an article she wrote for the Collaborative newsletter in March 2008:

[W]ith CFSA, the Collaboratives, and many child-serving organizations all working to do our part, I sincerely hope the community at large will also ask: How can we do more? Beyond the responsible mandated reporters who call when they know or suspect child abuse, everyone must be linked in the chain of care. Neighbors, friends, extended family, landlords, and other “ordinary people” need to notice signs of parental struggle and children at risk. The world has changed significantly from years ago when people in a neighborhood all knew and looked out for one another. But to be a community that truly cares about children, we cannot allow any troubled family to become isolated. Widespread reaching out is the best child abuse preventive and strongest safety net. It is the means by which we can all go deeper to protect children and support families.

Let all of us honor Sharlynn Bobo by taking inspiration from her clear and steadfast vision and from how she lived her commitment with passion and tireless dedication. I will miss her very much.