Child Welfare

Caseworker to Be Fired After Baby Dies

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A District social worker will be fired today after the recent death of a 6-month-old boy who was reported in March to be neglected. The social worker assigned to the case never visited the child, said interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles.

The office of the chief medical examiner has not determined the cause of the baby's death. The boy died June 25, and three other children in the home have been removed, Nickles said.

The city confirmed the death three days after The Washington Post began inquiring about the case. Nickles said he and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) reviewed the case yesterday evening and determined that the caseworker, who has been on administrative leave, should be fired.

"In my view and the view of the mayor over the past hour, it's very clear to us that this is unacceptable and someone should be held accountable," he said.

The social worker's supervisor will be placed on leave, Nickles said. He did not disclose the names of family members in the case.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said the death raises concerns that the Child and Family Services Agency has not addressed a recent backlog of cases triggered by the January discovery of Banita Jacks's four dead daughters. The girls, whose mother was charged in their murders, had been dead for months, and their bodies were badly decomposed. The city agency had been notified that the girls might be in trouble.

Wells, a former social worker who is chairman of the committee that oversees the child welfare agency, said he will hold a hearing Monday on the baby's death and the backlog.

He said he learned of the baby boy's death more than a week after it happened through another social worker, whose name he would not reveal. The time lapse raised fears about the agency's lack of transparency, he said.

Wells said he was told that the unnamed social worker had a workload of 50 cases but had not contacted children in 17 of those cases. "It's either a serious management issue or the mayor is not giving the agency the resources it needs," Wells said.

Nickles confirmed the 17 cases and said they were distributed over the weekend to other social workers to make contact with the children. The social worker in the case of the child who died had been employed by the CFSA since at least early 2005, Nickles said.

The latest incident has spurred another review to ensure that caseworkers "make prompt contact with every child and family," he said.

On March 27, the family services agency received a call about the baby on the child abuse and neglect line, Nickles said. The agency assigned the case to the social worker, who appears to have called the family but did not reach them March 31, April 2 and possibly another time in between, he said.

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