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Prince William County Social Services Director Wants to Overhaul System

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Given the state of the department and the economy, that might be a tall order. Ledden has been able to add two investigators, but his agency suffered a net loss of 19 positions when budget cuts forced it to close group homes and eliminate other positions.

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Meanwhile, Ledden has spent weeks researching how to bring the antiquated department up to speed. He wants to install laptops in county cars that emergency unit staffers take home at night. He also wants a staff increase and for police to train his case workers to be better investigators. He will go before the board of county supervisors next month with an estimate of how much state recommendations and his own ideas would cost.

Raised in southern Virginia, Ledden joined the department more than 20 years ago as a part-time relief counselor in boys' group homes. He studied social policy at George Mason University, where he was one of the few men in his field of study. A father of four, he has long enjoyed working with children, which made the Glover case so much harder to take.

He remembers standing in his bedroom in his Fauquier County home looking out at some woods in his back yard Jan. 9 -- two days after a massive search for Glover began -- when his division chief called. Glover's body had been found.

"I said to her, 'Nothing will ever be the same,' " Ledden said. "'Boy, do we have a lot of work to do.' "

For months after the call, the TV cameras, angry letters and calls for his resignation seemed constant. But Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said it would not have been fair to call for Ledden's resignation.

"If the state audit had concluded that this death was caused by mismanagement by Jack Ledden, he would've been terminated," Stewart said. "The audit did not conclude that there was systemic mismanagement in the department. It did conclude there were errors committed by specific employees."

Stewart said the board is committed to putting some of Ledden's reforms in place even with the tight budget.

Despite Ledden's intentions, one expert said it will be a difficult road to change the agency. Richard Gelles, dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, said real change in an organization with the size and scope of social services requires sustained efforts.

"It's called 'round up the usual suspects' when tragedy happens," Gelles said. "They need more money, more workers, fewer caseloads, but by the time reports are published, everyone has moved on. These are not systems that want to reform. System strength is dependent on its weakest link."

Even if Ledden achieves all the reforms he is seeking in the short term, he will still be far from the cutting edge, said Gelles, who, in conjunction with Montgomery County, Pa., police, is developing a handheld device that would provide real-time access to information caseworkers need when they make a site visit. Lagging technology is a problem plaguing social services departments across the country, Gelles said, an issue in a field where up-to-date information can be the difference between life and death.

Ledden acknowledges that change doesn't come overnight. But one look at the picture on the jelly bean jar, and he knows he has to try.

"This is not a job where you go home at the end of the day and say you put in your eight," Ledden said. "We didn't kill her, but I can't say we did everything possible. That's why it's going to change."


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