THE RIVLIN Commission concluded that the District's foster care program was not up to acceptable standards. That's not the half of it. Last week's testimony in the ACLU lawsuit against the city established that many foster care children are in jeopardy. "It's devastating to go home at night and not know if one of your kids is going to be on the 6 o'clock news because they died," said one demoralized social worker responsible for foster care teenagers. His children have never been placed for adoption. Another city worker said she spends so much time fighting fires -- such as finding beds at night for abandoned, abused or neglected children -- that she lacks the time to write individual case plans for the 251 children in her "custody," let alone visit their foster homes or the families they were forced to leave. According to her testimony, she and her colleagues are months, if not years, behind in preparing individual treatment plans for their children. Her caseload, incidentally, is more than 12 times the standard recommended by the Child Welfare League.

At the same time that embattled front-line workers are sagging under massive caseloads and children are languishing in the system, this city, unlike other jurisdictions around the country, is losing millions of federal funds to which it is entitled. That's because the Department of Human Services' Commission of Social Services has failed to develop a reliable automated case tracking system that can tell it where the children are. This leads to the other alarming charge by foster care advocates. The District, they allege, does not know how many children are in the system, or where they are or who among the list of foster care parents receiving regular payments is actually serving children.

If the city loses this lawsuit, that means adding one more to the 11 different consent decrees under which the Commission of Social Services now operates. In reality, the courts are running social service programs in the city, because those entrusted with the responsibility during the previous city administration either couldn't or wouldn't do the job. Mayor Dixon is absolutely correct to accept the resignations of the Human Services leadership. She should do it in behalf of the city's wards, without regret. Through their stewardship of the foster care program, they have made their own statement -- unintentionally, perhaps -- in support of contracting the delivery of foster care services to an outside organization with a proven track record of loving, supporting and giving a sense of self to foster care children: The Rivlin Commission and other child welfare champions have noted that one outside group, the Consortium for Child Welfare, already handles nearly one-third of the city's foster care cases on a contract basis. But unlike the city's own program, the consortium knows where its kids are and reportedly does a better job with the placement and support of the District's children.

Vincent C. Gray, Mayor Dixon's choice to direct the Department of Human Services, should continue where the mayor leaves off and clear the decks of all those within the agency who through indifference, incompetence and "attitudes" have added to the burdens that these children unfairly have to bear.