City Desk

Court Orders CFSA To Do Obvious: Get A Plan

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan did what no one else in the city seemed to be able to do: He ordered CFSA to come up with a plan to fix itself. He gave the troubled child welfare agency a two-week deadline.

Hogan's directive spells certain trouble for the already troubled agency! CFSA has definitely heard the words "plan" and "deadline" before Wednesday. It's understanding those words that's given the agency fits, according to Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of Children's Rights, the national advocacy group that has watchdogged the agency for decades. Children's Rights spurred this latest round in U.S. District Court after filing a contempt order in late July.

It is the concept of deadlines and plans that caused Children's Rights to take action in U.S. District Court.

“We had certainly been concerned for at least the last four or five months," Lowry told me in early August. "CFSA was supposed to have agreed to an acceptable 12-month plan in January. It became clear they were not going to be able to do that…They couldn’t come up with a satisfactory plan. Finally, we withdraw our objections to [a] six month [stabilization] plan. It was March already and they did not have a plan that we thought was adequate. Since the period was half over, we decided to do a 12-month plan starting on July 1. We expected to have an adequate plan by the end of June. We did not get an acceptable plan by the end of June.”

Lowry's group met CFSA officials several times to express its dissatisfaction. Those meetings, Lowry says, were disappointing and failed to address the agency's lack of progress on righting the agency. The meetings sometimes included D.C.'s top lawyer Peter Nickles.

Nickles did confirm to City Desk that Children's Rights' main beef with CFSA concerned the agency's failure to address its issues in a systematic way. The agency just never could get specific enough to satisfy Children's Rights, Nickles says.

[Nickles told the Post in July: "I had looked to Marcia and the plaintiffs as partners to improve the agency," Nickles said. "This has sort of taken my invitation and said we'll hold you in contempt."]

Lowry says that given the agency's bad marks in a November '07 review and the handling of the Banita Jacks case, the agency should have been more aggressive.

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