How the District's Children Die Stories of a city failing its most vulnerable wards.

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The committee found:

  • More than 50 percent of the 2006 child welfare youth over 13 years old had histories of drug use, 31 percent were diagnosed with mental health and behavioral disorders, and 29 percent had chronic health problems.
  • One 15-year-old disabled child had never attended school.
  • 16 of the 32 school-age children were enrolled in special education or alternative programs.
  • 30 percent of the youths were homicide victims.
  • 75 percent of the families were referred to the child welfare system multiple times. “The number of reports ranged from one to 49, with an average of four reports per family,” the committee wrote.
  • At the time of death, 25 percent of the child welfare fatalities had families with active cases.
  • 75 percent of the families were referred to the child welfare system multiple times. “The number of reports ranged from one to 49, with an average of four reports per family,” the committee wrote.

Case Study No. 1: A Homicide

“On 3/1/06, MPD responded to a report of a shooting in the rear of a residential area in the SE quadrant of the city. Upon arrival on the scene, officers located the body of an unidentified Black male suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the head. FEMSD responded to the scene and found no signs of life….

Based on information from the investigation, the victim was shot while standing on the street with several other youth….The motive for the death was retaliation and was related to a previous robbery. There were witnesses to the fatal crime, and a 20 year old, Black male suspect was identified. Records indicate that the victim and perpetrator were acquaintances and resided in the same neighborhood. Additionally, both the suspect and the victim were known to the District’s juvenile justice systems….

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At the time of the death, the victim was in abscondence from the juvenile justice system and was also known to the District’s mental health, substance abuse treatment and public assistance programs….The victim was academically two grades behind grade level and had a history of truancy with the DC public school system. Records indicate that he aspired to be a basketball player and he reported that his greatest challenge was ‘the world.’”

Case Study No. 2: A Natural Death

“A 13 year old youth, with a medical history of cerebral palsy and mental retardation, was found by a relative in his NE home, along with his mother in an unconscious state on the floor.

The youth was transported by emergency medical services to a local hospital. It was determined that he was suffering from pneumonia, dehydration and malnutrition. Based on the investigation, it was also determined that the mother had died from a drug overdose at least one day prior, leaving the youth without any means of care or support.”

The report states the cause of death: Lung Collapse due to Pneumonia, Sepsis, renal failure/natural.

Case Study No. 3: HIV/AIDS Natural Death

“As an African American teenage male born HIV positive, JB longed to be reunified with his mother and infant sibling. JB was known to the District’s child welfare system since the age of 10, as he was left alone while his mother was shoplifting. A total of six neglect allegations were reported between 1998 and 2003.

As a result, JB experienced multiple living arrangements between foster care placements, and relatives. JB worried frantically about his mother, who was homeless, and a substance abuser. He absconded from placements on numerous occasions in order to search for his mother, and exhibited unpredictable behaviors, such as excessive crying and biting.

Child welfare services had difficulty arranging both medical and mental health services for JB, who at the age of 12, refused to participate in services offered. A relative became his legal guardian, however he continued to refuse medical treatment.

JB also experienced school failure; and school officials reported that [when] he did attend he was ‘ill, and sick looking.’ Concerned about other kids knowing about his illness, he completely withdrew from school in 2005, and was reportedly uncooperative with the home schooling program.

In the summer of 2006, JB presented to a local emergency room with a five-day history of coughing, chest pains and chills. He coded, and medical interventions were futile.

Although child welfare services were being provided to the family at the time of his death, records indicate that services for JB terminated in 2003, without specific reasoning. The review confirmed that JB’s medical needs were not properly addressed, and multi-disciplinary planning was not implemented for JB and his caretakers, which should have included community-based resources for teens living with HIV/AIDS.”

Case Studies No. 4 and No. 5: Double Homicide In Benning Heights

“[On] a brisk morning in the SE quadrant of the District, MPD 6th District officers were called to the scene of an apparent shooting of two young African-American males. Victim #1 was suffering from a gunshot wound to the right side of the chest and Victim #2 was suffering from a gunshot would to the head….both were pronounced dead on the afternoon of the day of the shooting….

Victim #1 was over 18 years of age and at the time of his death was not a District resident. He was known to the juvenile justice system and his case had terminated approximately 1 year prior to his death….As a result of this involvement with the juvenile justice system, he had received a range of services within the District. His mentor had reported that ‘he was a strong individual with endless possibilities.’

Victim #2 was known to the District’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems at the time of his death. As a three-year old, he witnessed the violent death of his father. Later, he would experience the grief of losing three younger siblings to premature birth; he also witnessed the fatal stabbing of an uncle.

In 2001, due to his poor behavior as a 5th grade student, school officials referred him to the Persons in Need of Supervision Program (PINS) through the DC Superior Court and he began a series of inpatient psychiatric hospital stays.

Records indicated that his mother was emotionally and physically unstable, which created an unstable home environment. At the age of 12, Victim #2 admitted to watching his mother abuse drugs. He also admitted that he used marijuana and PCP. At the age of 13, he began to commit criminal acts, which led to his commitment to the District’s juvenile justice system.

After having escaped from residential treatment at the age of 14, he was involved in a physical altercation and received serious injuries that required hospitalization. He again returned to the custody of the juvenile justice system, and was subsequently returned to his home. His mother reported to government officials that she knew ‘he had a gun.’ He continued to participate in criminal activities that led to further juvenile arrests and remained committed to the juvenile justice system until his death at the age of 16.

The Committee’s review of Victim #2 found that he had been referred for numerous community-based and government services however there were several systemic concerns associated with the services provided. Records indicated that providers and government agencies did not share information regarding the services provided, and providers were not evaluated for their effectiveness. Victim #2 never gained the ability to appropriately cope with the loss of significant persons in his life, and continued to abuse drugs….he never maintained regular school attendance….The committee was able to associate Victim #2 to the death of two other [reviewed] 2006 homicides.”

Our Readers Say

It is a shame that the families in the District care nothing for themselves or the children they have with no thought or apparently knowledge of how to properly raise and care for them. These stories were very disheartening. I am no longer amazed at the ignorance or excuses I hear for the continued abuse of drugs, alcohol, and violent behaviors prodominently exhibited by the poor (black & white).
I think it is a cycle. Unfortunately, many feel down-trodden and do not break the cycle. Some believe that destitute is who they are, and destitute is how they'll stay. I don't blame the government totally or the families totally. In many ways, the "system" fails them, and in many ways, it fails society as a whole... by not being accountable. There are some families "living it up" while others are working hard... System glitch. And there are some not getting proper help to help secure their future... system glitch. Either way, it is a disparity, and you could point fingers, but we all need to take responsibility for our part. I think people blame government because a LOT of the time, they are NOT accountable for their actions. But point blank, period, one can CHOOSE better. But how does one choose if one does not KNOW better? That's the tricky question. Some FIGHT. Others don't. Many don't know they have a CHOICE to fight...
This is sad, the system didn't fail them; having sorry ass, no account, selfish, addicted parents failed them, gottdamn shame, and such a waste of life..sigh

No white man or boogey man to blame for this one
Wow, this story is so sad.
Excellent piece-- although I wish that the author had spent more time talking about how social conditions (housing, neighborhoods, etc) influence mortality rates-- especially birth weight! So many comments seem like they feel that these children "deserved it!" In fact, what we're seeing in DC, and communities all over, is that children born into poor circumstances face poor life choices.

I hope that we can begin to think about what causes Ward 8 to be at the top of these charts, why is it overwhelmingly African American children who die young? It can't be simply that ALL residents of Ward 8 have "bad genes" or "don't care about themselves." It is something much more fundamental.

The article dances around questions of equity but sadly fails to make these connections explicit, opening the door to the "they deserved it" or "they're ignorant" crowd.

Shame on DC for having this kind of inequity and poverty in our midst.
Why was necessary to only identify the location of the incidents that took place in SE? Aside from the mention of NE in 'Case Study No. 2: A Natural Death', no other detail was given with regard to the quadrant of the city in which the other deaths occurred. Enlighten me.
@hmmm I noticed the exact same thing! Why was it important to only list the SE quadrants (assuming the other case studies were not in SE)?
this article made me so sad.....each person described was a human being who deserved so much more life. Kudos to Jason for digging beneath the usual superficial reporting and bringing these cases to our attention.
Blacks must make better life choices. Government must limit the entitlement funds.Women and Men must use condoms and keep a month's supply at all times. Dudes must quit molesting children in the Black neighborhoods or any neighborhood. Leave the drugs and thugs alone and quit slepeing with down-low brothas and diseased people.

Throw away the TV,video games and pornagraphy in the closet. Read books, educate and visit cultural places of significance more often. Cease the violence and derelict family values. Watch your lives change overnight if you follow this prescription especially US Blacks.
Who extracts 8 teeth, does several fillings and gives a fluoride treatment to a 6 year old at the same time?????
Kind of reminds me of the young white mother who hid her infant in a suitcase and left t in an attic on Veazey St. NW. Or Andrea Yeats. Or Amy Grossberg. Or Marybeth Tinning. Or Susan Smith. I could go on and on; the list covers several centuries.

It's kind of different when you don't have the luxury of "going away to Switzerland for vacation" for six months and then coming back childless.

I guess white folks kill their kids occasionally, too.
this has got to be the saddest and most truthful article ever published.

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