Another Death Comes as D.C. Probes Caseworker Backlogs

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A second baby who was the subject of a neglect case by the District's Child and Family Services Agency died yesterday -- the same day that the long-troubled agency tried to explain a 2,000-case backlog at a D.C. Council hearing called to address the recent death of a 6-month-old boy.

Agency spokeswoman Mindy Good issued a spare news release late yesterday saying the agency had learned of a 4-month-old baby's death that morning.

"CFSA is reviewing agency actions in conducting the investigation and will release appropriate information when that review is complete," she wrote.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said it was his understanding that the child's 15-year-old mother "rolled over and slept on him." No official cause of death had been released.

Wells also said that the 4-month-old's case was part of the "backlog," the catchall term for cases in which investigations have not been completed within 30 days.

"I feel like throwing up," Wells said yesterday. "It really does just sicken me."

Hours earlier, a court monitor of the agency described a child welfare system that is understaffed and mismanaged.

The caseloads of social workers are "dangerously high," and their supervisors haven't been reviewing their work, Judith Meltzer, also deputy director of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, testified at the D.C. Council hearing.

The hearing was called after the death of Isiah Garcia, a 6-month-old boy who was reported as neglected March 27 and who died June 25 of an undetermined cause.

The social worker assigned to his case never visited him. She was fired, and her supervisor was placed on leave. It was the same kind of swift action that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took in January when he fired six workers in the wake of the discovery of four dead sisters, whose mother, Banita Jacks, has been charged with murder.

The unnamed social worker in Isiah's case went from carrying four cases in January to juggling 50 and hadn't seen children in 17 of those cases at the time of Isiah's death.

Wells revealed that the social worker had been disciplined in the past. He did not give specifics, but in an interview with The Washington Post last week, the social worker said she had been suspended for nine days in 2006 for failing to handle her backlog.

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