Brenda Donald’s introduction as the new director of the Child and Family Services Agency was as much a reunion as a news conference.
After Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced her appointment, Donald spent much time hugging old colleagues at the agency where she worked from 2001 until 2005, including two years in the job she now takes for a second time.
Donald said she was “thrilled” to be returning to D.C. government after spending three years running Maryland’s social service agency and more than a year as a foundation executive. She initially agreed to advise Gray on his search before accepting an encore stint as director.
“Most of my career I’ve been a mile wide and an inch deep,” she said. “Now I want to go that inch wide and a mile deep.”
The agency remains in need of deep attention, according to an independent report filed this week as part of the long-running federal lawsuit against the city child welfare system.
While hailing “essential foundational work,” the court-appointed monitor said that “overall performance is still not achieving the outcomes expected” under a 2010 agreement.
Among other shortfalls, the report found the agency has not done enough to place children in troubled homes with relatives as an alternative to foster care. It also said the city has been unable to provide necessary data to judge the quality of its encounters with children and families.
But Donald, 56, expressed confidence that she can rebuild an agency still reeling from the 2008 Banita Jacks tragedy, in which city social workers failed to responds to warnings about Jacks’s four daughters, later found dead.
“While there are still challenges, there is nothing there that scares me,” Donald said.
She expressed confidence that she will preside over the end of the two-decade-old lawsuit, known as LaShawn A. v. Gray, calling the city’s exit from court supervision “within striking distance.”
More to come in Friday’s paper.