City Desk

CFSA Back In Federal Court Tomorrow

This week the court monitor, who is charged with auditing the District's troubled Child and Family Services Agency, released its latest findings. The findings show that CFSA continues to fail at certain critical goals involving safeguarding children from abusive homes.

Richard Wexler, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, sent around an e-mail sharing his comments on the monitor's findings. His e-mail does a great job of outlining and highlighting the more critical aspects of the report.

Wexler writes:

"According to the latest court monitor’s report on DC child welfare, the *best* that can be said for CFSA is that things are back to where they were in June, 2007. That means the best that can be said for Mayor Fenty’s performance in the wake of the Jacks case is that he squandered two years – and countless children’s lives.

But while I have great respect for the monitor, I don’t understand why she’s giving CFSA even that much credit. Because over and over, her own report shows that things are getting worse – and they’re getting worse in some of the most important areas.

P. 9: Providing appropriate services for children: Peformance plummeted.

p.11: Visits between parents and workers: Performance worsened

p.11: Reducing multiple placements of children: Performance worsened

p.13: Developing appropriate case plans: Performance worsened

p.13: Locating relatives to take part in the case plan process: Peformance plummeted

p. 15: Services to keep placements safe and stable whether in own homes or foster homes:
Performance plummeted.

p.19: Performance-based contracting: Still not even close.

p.22: Preventing placement in overcrowded group homes: Performance worsened

p.10: Placing children with relatives: CFSA can’t even provide data to measure.

And then there is the astoundingly bad record for warehousing children in the worst form of care: On any given day 30 percent of DC foster children are trapped in group homes or institutions. The national average is about 18 percent. In New York City, which has made a concerted effort to reduce such placements in spite of a foster-care panic much like the one in DC, it’s 13 percent.

And finally, from the very last page of the report: I don’t like using deaths of children known-to-the-system as a measure, but as long as they’re the measure of choice for the media: During the foster-care panic following the discovery of the bodies of the Jacks children – when so many more children were being taken away, supposedly in the name of “child safety” – the number of such deaths went up.

Given this record it’s hard to believe that Fenty and Nickles wouldn’t be too ashamed to even show their faces in court, much less ask to have CFSA freed from court oversight. But then, while it may be failing vulnerable children in almost every possible way, when it comes to unmitigated gall, this Administration always exceeds expectations."

Child and Family Services will have a lot to answer for when they go back to Federal Court tomorrow. Children's Rights, the advocacy group who spurred the long-standing federal lawsuit, issued its own react press release to the new monitor's report. It's a preview–at least of their side–of the arguments they might being making court. The release states:

"The report was issued by the independent monitor appointed by the federal court to track reforms required by the class action known as LaShawn A. v. Fenty, brought by Children’s Rights in 1989 on behalf of thousands of children dependent on the DC child welfare system.

According to the report, unacceptably large numbers of children in foster care in the District continue
to be placed in shelters and other non-family homes, moved between too many different foster homes,
and left to languish too long while awaiting adoption. The number of children adopted out of foster
care has steadily declined for more than four years running.

Services aimed at keeping families together and reunifying foster children with their biological families remain badly inadequate. While the report credits the District with correcting some of the serious, ongoing problems that led Children’s Rights to file a motion for contempt of court in July 2008, it says the District has succeeded only in stabilizing its Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) after it had fallen into crisis, and it notes that CFSA’s current performance could be described in terms similar to those used in a progress report issued nearly two years ago, in June 2007, in which the monitor wrote: 'Many children and families continue to receive less than optimal services and supports. High quality planning, decision making, and service delivery is not yet the norm.'

The report comes just two days before District officials and Children’s Rights are scheduled to appear
in court for a hearing before United States District Court Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan to determine whether the District can put on witnesses at an upcoming hearing on the District’s motions to end court oversight of its child welfare system—and Children’s Rights’ motion for contempt. The report flatly states that, 'as of January 31, 2009, the District has not met the expected performance set forth by the court.'"

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