Prince William County Social Services Director Wants to Overhaul System
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Among photos and trinkets commemorating departmental success stories, Prince William County Social Services Director John P. "Jack" Ledden has a photo of an inquisitive-looking girl taped to a jelly bean jar in his office, and he wants you to ask about her.
That's because in the case of Alexis "Lexie" Agyepong-Glover, everything went wrong.
Despite reports to authorities by neighbors and bus drivers who saw signs of abuse, the system failed to rescue her. Lexie's body was found in early January in a frigid creek; her adoptive mother pleaded guilty in July to abusing and murdering her; social services employees were disciplined in the case; and the department was put under review.
Now, seven months and several investigations later, Ledden says he is determined to set things right by overhauling the way his department does business. He said he thinks about the Glover case "constantly, every day." The photo on the jar is a reminder that the decisions he is making are "crucial," he said.
"This is a priority," Ledden said. "By having her sitting there -- it's got to get done. It's got to get done like yesterday."
In the culture of social services agencies, transparency and communication with the public are not the norm. Records involving juveniles are kept confidential, often even after a child's death. Even investigators from other agencies seeking information on abused children can hit roadblocks, officials said.
Ledden declined to specify the ways in which his agency mishandled the Glover case, citing confidentiality written into the state code. He has said only that some workers failed to follow proper procedures or take action within the proper time frame.
But it is clear from those who reported abuse, and from evidence that surfaced in court, that officials failed to spot a pattern that spanned years and that Lexie's mother, Alfreedia Leona Gregg-Glover, was able to convince caseworkers and police officers that Lexie was disabled and dishonest.
In one instance the month before Lexie's death, neighbor Wes Byers reported finding Lexie wandering the streets in the freezing cold with a head wound. Lexie told Byers her mother had hit her with a stick and begged not to be sent home. Police and a social worker responded, and Lexie was taken to the hospital, where Gregg-Glover claimed Lexie had hit herself. Lexie was released to her mother that day. The incident came after years of similarly disturbing reports to police, social services and school officials, but no one in authority took meaningful action.
Ledden said he wasn't aware of the incident reports in Lexie's case before her death because casework doesn't usually rise to his management level. In late March, the agency began a new screening policy that would allow supervisors to take another look at a case if it had received three calls that, on their own, had not merited a site visit. If that policy had been in place when Lexie was alive, Ledden said, it might have made a difference.
Since Lexie's death, Ledden has spoken out about the case to other agencies -- a textbook example, several audits showed, of how poor communication across agencies, a deceptive parent and a dysfunctional bureaucracy can have lethal consequences. He met with state Child Protective Services officials last week to discuss possible collaboration and has invited officials from Fairfax and Loudoun counties to participate in meetings. Ledden's hope is for the county's changes to shape a social services model statewide, he said.
"People are surprised I talk about it, but I don't want people to forget about it," Ledden said. "The kid will change how we do business in the state."