Alexandria social workers who investigated a squalid home on four occasions between 1999 and 2001 but did not remove the two children living there followed proper procedures, according to an independent investigation launched after the youngsters were abandoned by their mother in September. A summary of the report was made public yesterday.
The mother, Latania Funn, 43, was later found guilty of neglect, and the incident led to the reassignment of the city's director of human services. Funn was given a 60-day suspended sentence. The children, a 16-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy, who were left for a week in filthy surroundings and without food, are in foster care.
The 20-page report, conducted by local lawyer Joseph McCarthy, found that though social workers responded to calls to the Del Ray home several times, to check on the possibility of abuse and neglect, "each social worker involved in this case exercised sound and good judgment."
"There is no evidence to support the conclusion that any social worker in this matter should have acted sooner to remove the children from the home," McCarthy wrote in his report on an investigation he conducted last month. The conditions did not meet the state standards for abuse and neglect, McCarthy said.
After the September incident came to light, City Manager Philip G. Sunderland reassigned the city's human services director, Meg O'Regan, and announced that there would be a nationwide search -- currently underway -- for her replacement. City officials said yesterday that there are no plans to return O'Regan to the job.
Earlier, the department had drawn extensive public criticism for its handling of the case of 3-year-old Katelynn Frazier, who was fatally injured in 2000 in her mother's apartment while she was in the city's custody and social workers were monitoring her care.
McCarthy, a former city prosecutor who is defending Gregory D. Murphy, the man accused of killing 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett two years ago, was hired by the city as an independent investigator and charged with finding out whether city and state regulations were followed by social workers, whether department procedures should be changed in light of the incident, and whether caseworkers should have removed the children before September, when police found them living in filth.
In his report, McCarthy suggested that the city consider asking for a change in state law that requires social workers to destroy records of cases that are investigated but dismissed.
"Destruction of records in unfounded cases handicaps successive social workers in establishing a pattern which might indicate such a threat to a child," he wrote. City officials said they are considering asking for a new law.
At Funn's trial, city prosecutors said conditions in the household had been filthy for some time, and they referred to a videotape made two years ago by Funn's children showing the home. Prosecutors said the earlier tape depicted conditions not unlike those discovered in September.
Yesterday, McCarthy referred all questions about the case and his report to City Attorney Ignacio B. Pessoa, who said the tape was never seen by social workers. Although they knew about it, they never watched it because they lacked permission from an adult, Pessoa said. When social workers inspected the home, Pessoa said, conditions did not warrant intervention.
Alexandria Mayor Kerry J. Donley (D) and several City Council members said in interviews last night that although they had not read the full report, they welcomed the independent scrutiny. In addition, Donley said the city should embrace similar investigations in "serious cases" where the practices of city social workers are called into question.