Fired D.C. Social Worker's Caseload Had Ballooned

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A D.C. social worker -- fired yesterday after a 6-month-old boy's death -- had a workload that jumped from four cases to 50 as reports of neglect and abuse flowed into the child welfare system after the death of four sisters.

The Child and Family Services Agency had been accused of mishandling the case of Banita Jacks and her daughters, which drew national attention.

The social worker involved in the baby boy's case got swept up in the increased reports, said Geo T. Johnson, executive director of District Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"A lot of times it's hard to get to the volume of cases they have," Johnson said. "These people are human, too."

But Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) stood by his decision to fire her and to place her supervisor on administrative leave.

"If someone is saying the District of Columbia human services agency is somewhat overburdened . . . I'm the first to say that," he said.

However, Fenty added, "There can be no excuses."

The child died June 25, three months after a March 27 call to a hotline, according to interim Attorney General Peter Nickles. The cause of death has not been determined and no arrests have been made, but the social worker never saw the baby, despite a report of neglect. Nickles also noted that the social worker had not seen children in 16 other cases.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, is holding a hearing on the case Monday. Wells, a former social worker, said he is concerned about CFSA's ability to manage the backlog of cases.

A children's rights lawyer renewed a threat to ask a federal judge to hold the city in contempt for continuing to fail children through CFSA. Marcia Robinson Lowry said there were warnings that children would not be served if the backlog was not handled properly.

"Unfortunately, a predictable outcome is that all too likely something bad is going to happen to a child," said Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, a national advocacy group that has been involved in a federal lawsuit against the agency for nearly 20 years.

The social worker, whose identity has not been revealed by the administration or the union, tried to contact the family by phone. Nickles said she tried March 31, April 2 and possibly another time in between. Johnson said the social worker told him yesterday that there were four attempts.

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