Child Welfare Hearing Shows City Agency Still Struggling
At Thursday's oversight hearing before Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham's Committee on Human Services, a mother recounted what life has been like for her 13-year-old daughter since she was taken into D.C.'s child-welfare agency's custody. It has been a horror show.
Since coming into the system six months ago, the daughter has been raped twice.
The city has moved her daughter 14 times. Three different agencies have handled her case. After watching the hearing, the daughter's case, where great need collides with greater dysfunction, didn't seem like such an outlier. It seemed just another nightmare case Graham now must deal with.
It became all too clear that Graham has taken over the toughest task of any councilmember: Overseeing the District's Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) and the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS). Speaker after speaker proved it Thursday.
The session ran so long—well past 5 p.m.—that Graham announced from the dais that he had canceled his dinner plans. And why wouldn't he? The hearing had been crammed with shocking statistics and eye-opening testimonials—all enough to make Thursday's other hearing about those Navigators look silly.
Here are some astounding stats City Desk picked up from the hearing:
*10,000 D.C. children do not live with their biological parents.
*CFSA made a more than 30 percent cut to their private service providers. These providers manage group homes and independent-living facilities, as well as provide fostercare services.
*Family court judges have seen an uptick in more serious abuse cases. CFSA has seen an uptick in underage prostitution cases.
*In 2010, there were 6,320 abuse and neglect investigations done by CFSA.
*CFSA oversees 4,054 children—49 percent live in places like group homes and residential treatment facilities.
It may be hell once your in child-welfare, but it may be just as bad aging out. The majority of the teens who testified brought up the shortcomings of the agency's Office of Youth Empowerment (OYE), the entity that is supposed to assist the older wards with securing financial aid for college, finding affordable housing, setting up a plan for when they leave the system at 21.
Every city ward is entitled to financial aid supports for college. One woman testified that she had begun attending a college in Georgia. She didn't last long before being kicked out; the city, she says, had failed to follow through with their financial-aid money. She dropped out.
A 19-year-old testified that she had expressed a desire to attend a culinary school. Her social worker with OYE insisted that such a choice was too expensive. When she asked for a list of public culinary schools, the social workers admitted that they did not have a list. Instead, the social workers have pressured her to either work as a home-health aid or apply to Bank of America.
The 19-year-old also has a daughter. She testified that she only receives a stipend of $400 per month. All of that money goes to her baby's food and supplies. When she asked for more money, her social worker refused, saying: "Just find a way to make it work."
A teen, who has been in the system since 16, testified to similar financial difficulties. He receives $580 per month from the District. Of those funds, $350 go toward transportation expenses. He testified that the stipend they receive has stayed the same since 2001.
His independent-living apartment unit is equally threadbare. The teen testified that the lock on his apartment's front door is broken. Inside, there are carpet stains and missing door knobs. He also stated that he doesn't have a mailbox. In September, he made a service request. The following month he followed up with a court order to force the service provider to repair his apartment. And still no repairs have been made. "CFSA does not have a system in place to provide support," he testified.
When the teen was finished, Graham stated: "This doesn't sound very good to me."
Other teens suggested that the number of planning sessions with their social worker was not adequate, that the meetings were overwhelming, and at times, LGBTQ youths don't feel supported. Nashwa Elgadi, the Young Women's Project's Program Coordinator for its Foster Care Campaign, testified to a list of issues the kids she works with have faced. One lived in a foster home with 18 housing code violations. It took three months of lobbying to get the teen moved out of the home.
Finally, after 5 p.m., CFSA's Interim Director Roque Gerald began his testimony. While his written testimony went on for at least 15 minutes, when it came time to drill down on specifics, he had few answers—especially concerning the OYE.
There are currently 42 full-time employees at the OYE. But when asked, Gerald, could not tell Graham what percentage their salaries took up in the office's overall budget. Nor could he provide a percentage of CFSA's kids that have gone on to graduate from college.
Gerald insisted that the woman's testimony concerning her experience at the Georgia college was not accurate. But he was not willing to state publicly what about her story was false. "I am willing to provide you information privately," Gerald said. "There is more to it than meets the eye."
Of the roughly 500 kids under OYE, 190 are either in college or "training." The other 300? Gerald couldn't say what they were actually doing. Nor could he give data on the number of former city wards who are homeless, in legal trouble or who are on public assistance. "We are still not in a place to report out on that data," Gerald admitted.