Clarification to This Article
The article reported on the D.C. inspector general's criticisms of how agencies responded to Banita Jacks. D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a Medicaid insurer, did not follow up in one incident, the inspector general said. In a separate incident that The Washington Post did not include in the article, the inspector general said that the firm alerted city social workers that Jacks needed help.

Banita Jacks Case: Lots of Blame to Go Around in D.C. Girls' Deaths, Report Says

Banita Jacks, in a police photograph from 1999 in Charles County.
Banita Jacks, in a police photograph from 1999 in Charles County. (AP)
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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009

The District failed the four daughters of Banita Jacks on many fronts, according to a report released this week by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General.

The city's schools, nonprofit agencies, health-care workers and police officers were all lax in their care of the imperiled family, contributing to the huge hole in the social safety net that they fell through, according to the report.

Publicly, the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the city's Child and Family Services Agency last year when U.S. Marshals discovered Jacks living with the corpses of her four daughters.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) fired six social workers just days after Jacks was arrested on allegations that she killed her four girls.

The team of investigators that researched the case and the lives of Banita Jacks and her children, who were between 5 and 17 years old, said the child welfare agency was not the only one that didn't catch the family's problems in time. In many instances, "errors of omission and commission, failures to communicate and coordinate, and deficient policies and procedures were evident," the report said.

The team said that the Jacks family did not live "in isolation, unknown to District agencies and nonprofit organizations, but rather [was] one which actively sought and received numerous services and benefits," the report said. "However, there were also service failures."

The family was supposed to receive monthly visits based on its housing placement; it never did. The school system didn't follow through when the girls dropped out of school. Police didn't fully investigate when they were called to the house. And health-care providers did not follow up on things that should have been red flags, according to the report.

The family got a $1,580 monthly rent subsidy, health care, housing at a hypothermia shelter when they were homeless, weekly food deliveries from a nonprofit agency and admission to D.C. public charter schools, the report said.

But when Jacks sought help with her mental health from a worker at D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a community health center serving Medicaid patients, the worker never followed up to make sure that she got an appointment and that her daughters were safe. And when a school social worker called CFSA to report that a child seemed to be held hostage in her home, that worker tried to find the child a couple of times but closed the case without locating her, officials said.

The lack of coordination between the various agencies that knew about the family was one of the biggest problems in their case, according to the report.

It wasn't until U.S. Marshals arrived to evict the family from their Southeast Washington house (which was in foreclosure) did the collective extent of things gone wrong come to light.

Among the inspector general's recommendations:

-- D.C. police should revise protocol on how officers respond to calls about troubled families and how they document their findings;

-- CFSA hotline workers and investigators must improve their ability to locate individuals and families;

-- A number of agencies, including housing nonprofit groups and the Income Maintenance Administration, need to cooperate with CFSA to help investigators locate people;

-- The Public Charter School Board needs written procedures on how to deal with a student pulled out of school.

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