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Posted at 7:01 PM ET, 01/14/2011

Honest questions about D.C. child services

By Roque Gerald, Washington

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of opinions expressed on this page regarding child welfare and child protection in the District [“Taking toys from foster kids won’t fix D.C. child services,” Jan. 9; “Three years after Banita Jacks, has anything really changed?,” Jan. 2; “Sacred cows in D.C.’s child services budget,” Dec. 26]. Many criticisms of the imperfect system here and nationally are valid. At the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), we certainly acknowledge the legitimacy of many of these criticisms. But the critics and advocates do not agree on appropriate solutions, and even the most well-intended opinions do not confront the full range of issues affecting child welfare nationally, and especially locally, in all their complexity.

The CFSA is working to address many of the concerns that have been expressed. While we have reduced placements into traditional group homes by 30 percent, we still place too many children in these environments, and we need loving families to volunteer to provide foster care for our children and youths. 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, still results in many youths entering these facilities. By improving our initial practices, we have also dramatically reduced the rate of children entering foster care as a result of calls to the hot line reporting child abuse and neglect, from one in five to one in 10, but we are not satisfied with that rate, which remains high compared with those of other jurisdictions.

There are further local challenges that must be taken into account. The situation in the District is affected, among other things, by high poverty and teen pregnancy rates compared to those of the states, resulting in many mothers, mostly single, who are unprepared to provide adequate support and care for their families. The current economic climate, local and federal legislative mandates — both funded and unfunded — and court-directed processes all contribute to the challenges for the CFSA and its partners in developing the strongest possible safety net for those we serve.

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.

No child should be injured by a family or by the system designed to protect him or her. But no system can function at its best in a climate that does not allow for a dialogue involving realistic expectations and balanced, constructive criticism. The Child and Family Services Agency must continue to improve its transparency so that public input and community support can contribute to its ability to fulfill its mission as a critical member of the “One City” safety net.

The writer is director of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.

By Roque Gerald, Washington  | January 14, 2011; 7:01 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, child services  
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Comments

We find this column to be interesting, and agree with the ideas expressed.

We are surprised that it was penned by the Director of DC's CPS.

American Family Rights Association has offered "constructive criticism" of the system for almost 9 years, as have numerous other family rights organizations long before AFRA came into existence.

We have certainly not enjoyed any positive response to our observations- #1 of which is the abject absence of Constitutional Due Process- The system operating "China Courts".

The false allegation rate runs at well over 85%. There is NO presumption of innocence and NO "vigorous defense" for those who cannot afford a GOOD lawyer.

The foremost problem is the immunity of CPS agents and their contractors from prosecution for proffering lies, half-truths, perjury, fabricated evidence.

The system could not possibly care less about what the kids think about being kidnapped from their homes (a direct violation of THEIR Fourth Amendment Rights).

If the child gives them any trouble about it, he will be doped out of his head in foster care or residential treatment until he ages out- and then thrown on the streets with NO education and No life skills.

The "best interest of the child" mantra is nothing but an excuse for government actors to make life decisions for children.

"Best interests operates as an empty vessel into which adult perceptions and prejudices are poured." --Hillary Rodham, Children Under the Law, 43 Harv. Ed. Rev. 487, 513 (1973).

When you talk about Abuse as a reason for CPS to exist, people think that is why so many kids are in the system. But for the past several years, poverty has become the main reason kids are found "neglected" by the system.

CPS intervention and Legal Abuse in those cases is anything but helpful. Sending parents to the usual "classes" such as anger management, taking 2 or 3 days of the week away from parents, often causing them to lose their jobs- is NOT helpful.

It's a nightmare out here in the real world for families.

And nobody really cares.

We proudly support the Parental Rights Amendment- last year's S.J. Res 16 and H.J. Res. 42. See http://parentalrights.org

Leonard Henderson, co-founder
American Family Rights
http://familyrights.us
"Until Every Child Comes Home"©
"The Voice of America's Families"©

Posted by: leonardh1 | January 15, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately this is more talk and excuses.

Dr. Gerald may be sincere, but he has had his chance to reform the CFSA. He has failed to do so in a truly child-positive way.

Under his administration, the CFSA has been sanctioned by a federal judge (costing DC a quarter million in legal fees), had to pay millions in damages in lawsuits, and also failed to properly bill and collect tens of millions in Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government. As to openness, his administration has been everything but "open." It has failed to provide information in response to FOIAs and to concerned parents about their children.

Ward-based data shows that Dr. Gerald's administration has "redlined" certain parts of the city for the political expediency of the Fenty Administration, and selectively investigated abuse and neglect claims.

It is understandable that he is fighting to keep his job. But the time to do that was during the last three years when he headed the agency -- not now. "Results matter."

Dr. Gerald has had his chance. DC deserves a new CFSA administration with truly innovative ideas, and a cleaned up front office that does not have the baggage that keeps them from holding the moral high ground.

It will be a serious mistake for Mayor Gray to allow this dysfunctional CFSA-administration to remain in charge. It is time for a fresh team with a proven track record, with fresh ideas.

Posted by: nwparent | January 15, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

While I like Dr. Gerald as a person, I agree with the others. You cannot run an agency that hires inexperienced social workers that do not have a clue what cultural competency means or how it impacts their job. Teaming is a joke because the social worker still come into these meetings with their own agenda. The problem is CFSA does not respect families and youth. The very consumers they are to protect. CFSA don't believe families can make good judgment or are willing to change for the sake of their families. I hope Dr. Gerald or whom ever it is, learn to respect families and youth and allow them a voice in their lives.

Posted by: stillhurting | January 15, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

It’s very difficult to engage in open discourse with an agency that keeps almost all information secret and fudges the figures it does make available.

In 2009 (the most recent year for which relatively reliable data are available) entries into foster care were down compared with 2008 – when they spiked as a result of the foster-care panic following the discovery of the bodies of the Jacks children. But DC still tore apart more families than in 2007.

Comparing entries to hotline calls is meaningless since you can get a lower rate simply by encouraging more people to call the hotline. When entries are compared to the number of children living in poverty in each city, the rate of child removal in DC is 30 percent above the rate in New York City, 80 percent above the rate in Detroit, 90 percent above the rate in Atlanta and Cleveland, double the rate in Miami and four times the rate in Chicago. And in the case of Miami and Chicago independent evaluations have found that, as they curbed entries into foster care, child safety improved.

And as Jason Cherkis reports in CityPaper here: http://bit.ly/gJCwr6 Gerald fudged the figures about residential treatment as well.

Notice also that Gerald remains silent on the urgent need to open court hearings in these kinds of cases to press and public.

As for the rest of what “open discourse” really means to Gerald’s CFSA, just check out Cherkis’ earlier stories here: http://bit.ly/hU2KiM and here: http://bit.ly/ew5ism

Richard Wexler
Executive Director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
http://www.nccpr.org

Posted by: rwexlernccpr | January 15, 2011 10:43 PM | Report abuse


One can easily see the difficulty in dealing with the social issue of child abuse/neglect by reading the postings following this op-ed piece.
You have nut cases like Leonard Hamilton's group who want to claim that children lie and are never abused. His group twists the the truth in their fruitless effort to find an audience with anyone but pedophiles and other abusers.

You have another who claims that "cultural" sensitivity, or the lack of, is the culprit. In other words, the blame for so many blacks involved in the child welfare system (and criminal justice, mental health, child support, etc., etc., etc...) is because the rest of us aren't sensitive to their culture. Oh my, so complicated! And "NO" poverty is not the central cause for children entering the child abuse/neglect system. You might want to claim that it is your reason-who knows-but, it is not the general reason.

And then of course when don't we ever fail to hear from Richard Wexler, the journalist who believes that he is somehow gifted with more knowledge despite his complete lack of education on child psychology and general science, or in logic, or in...

Overall, a rather thankless job to work in child welfare, but one that has rewards in seeing children made safer and at least given a chance for which their lot in life had not before provided them.

Posted by: familynet | January 18, 2011 8:06 AM | Report abuse

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