D.C. social workers fired in maelstrom of Banita Jacks case should be reinstated

Friday, June 25, 2010

Carl Miller was a brand-new social worker in the District when he steeled himself for his second case -- a pregnant 11-year-old. Her 24-year-old mom had AIDS, and the aunt living with them, an exhausted 26-year-old, had eight kids of her own.

Miller worked hard to wrestle the troubled family back to health with doctor's appointments, counselors, legal hearings.

He couldn't imagine he'd ever encounter a worse case.

But one came in the form of a hotline call he answered.

It was about Banita Jacks and her four children. Her case horrified a city and tanked his career. Only now is he ready to talk about it.

All of the social workers who had anything to do with the Jacks case were thumped in grand fashion by an angry and decisive Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

For a city reeling from the discovery that Jacks's four children were dead and that Jacks had been living in squalor for weeks with their decaying bodies until she was found in January 2008, it felt righteous to fire everyone having anything to do with her case.

A new director of the Child and Family Services Agency was installed, and Jacks was convicted of killing her girls.

But Miller and two other social workers are still fighting the case every day. And the city is fighting back.

The case touched Miller's life in late 2007, when a school social worker called and told Miller that a student at her school had been truant, the mom wouldn't open the door when she came to investigate, and she was worried.

On the phone, Miller was matter-of-fact, reminding the social worker that the woman had no legal obligation to let her inside. It seemed like educational neglect, nothing more; the social worker said the kids looked unkempt and were watching TV. That sounds like my own childhood.

As satisfying as it may have been to can Miller because he didn't swoop in to save these girls, it's not realistic to end the career of a 34-year-old man who had been a reliable social worker for eight years.

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