D.C. child welfare agency lays off more than 100

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2010; B01

More than 100 child welfare workers in the District were laid off Thursday as the Child and Family Services Agency tries to absorb budget cuts buffeting many D.C. departments and looks to remake its workforce as part of the agency's long-running reform effort.

Social service assistants, who shuttle foster children to school, bring them to doctors appointments and do any number of things that social workers don't have time to do, were among the hardest hit, with all 57 of them losing their jobs.

The mayor's proposed budget, released last month, projected CFSA job cuts, but it wasn't until Thursday that employees found out where the ax would fall.

After learning of the layoffs at a 9 a.m. meeting at the CFSA's Southwest Washington headquarters, the social service assistants were told to clean out their desks. Throughout the morning, workers emerged on Sixth Street carrying boxes of belongings.

"We are the front-line workers, and we do most everything," said Shirley Mims, 51, a social service assistant who lost her job. "The social workers are going to have to do everything now and they're already overworked."

Scores of employees, some who were losing their jobs, assembled outside CFSA headquarters at midday to protest the cuts, which they said would harm those the agency serves.

"This is like a hospital, and they just cut all the nurses," said Kina Cypress, a social worker in child protective services, which investigates abuse and neglect.

A total of 115 jobs were eliminated, with junior social workers, known as social work associates, and facility monitors losing their jobs, along with the 57 social service assistants.

Cuts are fraught with complications for the CFSA, the subject of a 21-year-old class-action suit over the city's care of neglected and abused children. The District says substantial improvements have been made and the suit should end; plaintiffs and the judge say the city has not done enough.

The city's chief lawyer, Peter Nickles, has been directly involved in discussions over CFSA's proposed budget, and he said Thursday that he is confident that the agency can manage the cuts.

"I've been assured by the people on the ground that, no, this will not be disruptive," Nickles said in an interview.

A new position has been created to replace the social service assistants, a CFSA spokeswoman said. The new job, called a family support worker, will require a college degree, and the agency expects to begin hiring soon.

Until then, managers are expected to step in to help social workers fill the gaps created by the departure of the 57 assistants, CFSA spokeswoman Mindy L. Good said. New monitoring jobs also are being created as the agency looks to focus its oversight of group homes not only on compliance with licensing regulations but also on quality of care.

The CFSA has nearly 900 employees and a budget of $269 million. After hiring for the newly created positions, the agency will have about 840 employee slots.

In an e-mail to the CSFA staff, Director Roque Gerald said the cuts were "the first and most difficult but necessary phase of the change process to align CFSA with current realities." Gerald acknowledged that the news was hard on the staff, but he said in the decisions were in the "best interests of the children, youth, and families we serve and of CFSA as a whole in the long run."

Outside CFSA headquarters, employees took a different view, saying the cuts would overwhelm the staff and undermine the agency's mission of helping troubled and vulnerable families.

With so much of their time taken up by filing reports and appearing in court, social workers say they have come to rely on the social service assistants to do much of the direct work with children and families, from arranging visits with parents to buying cribs for babies brought into care.

"All that's going to be on us," said Tony Rodgers, a social worker in child protection service.

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