D.C. Government: We Couldn’t Have Stopped Relisha Rudd Tragedy
The Gray administration doesn't believe it could have prevented the Relisha Rudd tragedy, according to an internal review released today by the city's deputy mayors for education and health and human services.
The review found that the city offered appropriate services to eight-year-old Relisha and her family, and that factors out of the city's control—decisions that Relisha's family made—resulted in her disappearance. The review looked at files spanning an unspecified number of years from four agencies—the Child and Family Services Agency, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Behavioral Health, and D.C. Public Schools—and other relevant service providers. The team also interviewed 16 government employees and contractors. The review did not investigate anything related to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Relisha, who lived with her family in the homeless shelter at the former D.C. General hospital, was last seen March 1 with Khalil Tatum, a janitor at the shelter with whom Relisha's mother let the girl spend time. But no one reported she was missing until weeks later, and police became involved in the case on March 19, and the dead body of Tatum's wife was soon after found in a hotel room in Oxon Hill, Md., during the search for Relisha. Police found Tatum's body on March 31, and he is believed to have committed suicide. Police have still not found Relisha.
The internal review provided a list of 26 policy and procedural recommendations the city agencies should enact in the wake of this case, but city officials say that, even if these recommendations had been enacted, they likely would not have prevented Relisha's disappearance.
Some of the report's 14 findings seem rather damning toward the city, but, again, officials insisted today that "no justifiable government action could have prevented her disappearance." For instance, the review found that there were "several instances in the provider records where professionals mandated to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect, expressed concern about the safety and well-being of the children but failed to act." The family was receiving aid from multiple social service agencies, but no one reported any abuse to Child and Family Services because they assumed someone else already had.
For this, the report recommends the city provide additional mandated reporter training to staff. It also recommends that agencies review and modify their policies to ensure that all people providing services to an individual family are in close coordination with one another.
"Even if recommendations were in place, there's nothing that could have prevented what happened because of things that were completely out of the control of government agencies," says Abigail Smith, D.C.'s deputy mayor of education said in an interview today.
Here are some other interesting takeaways from the report:
- In March 2014, D.C. Public School tried to obtain medical documentation from Relisha's mother justifying her absences. The school followed its protocol, but Relisha's mother lied, saying that she was sick and being cared for by "Dr. Tatum." The school had originally delayed reporting her extensive absences to Child and Family Services earlier to allow her mother more time to collect the necessary documentation to excuse Relisha's absences. Once a school social worker discovered that Tatum was not a doctor, the absences were immediately reported.
- Despite having prior felony convictions for burglary and breaking and entering, Tatum passed his pre-employment background check to be a janitor, a position that is not considered a "safety-sensitive position." The report now recommends that all staff members that may interact with minors be screened using the more stringent Child Protective Registry list. But Tatum did not have any violent felony convictions, and even if his position was considered safety-sensitive, he likely still would have been able to get the job.
- The review recommends that the Community Partnership—the contractor that runs the city's homeless shelters—require its employees to report any knowledge they have of other employees fraternizing with shelter residents.
Photo of Relisha Rudd via FBI