A REVIEW of the District’s handling of the Relisha Rudd case found a series of failings: how professionals who had contact with the still-missing girl’s family didn’t report their concerns about the safety and well-being of the children; how agencies providing services to the troubled family didn’t share information or coordinate interventions; how there was a delay in reporting the child’s excessive school absences.
So it is rather remarkable to conclude, as this review and city administration officials did, that the District government could have done nothing to prevent the disappearance of this vulnerable 8-year-old girl. The refusal to acknowledge even the possibility of a different outcome is as disturbing as any of the missteps outlined in the review. It undermines public confidence in the government’s resolve to prevent future tragedies.
A heavily redacted report, summarizing the involvement of city agencies with Relisha and her family prior to her disappearance six months ago from the homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital, was released Tuesday. The review, ordered by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), found that the family was receiving appropriate services from multiple agencies, other services were offered but declined and that the family’s circumstances did not satisfy the legal threshold for removal of the children.
Officials pointed to factors out of the city’s control as responsible for her disappearance. There’s no question that this was a complicated case with unusual circumstances. Decisions by the family to let the little girl go home with the shelter’s janitor — the man who is suspected of abducting her, who is believed to have killed his wife and who later committed suicide — as well as to provide false information to thwart officials checking on her well-being are major factors that cannot be dismissed, as evidenced by an ongoing criminal investigation. Nonetheless, as the internal review makes painfully clear, there were serious shortcomings by city agencies. That inevitably raises the question of “what if” the city had done more. Relisha is presumed dead, but hope remains she will be found alive.
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services BB Otero and Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith led the review, and they should be credited for not whitewashing the city’s deficiencies and offering 26 recommendations to improve the system. Foremost among them is formulating a plan to close the squalor at D.C. General that passes for the city’s shelter for homeless families, as well as refinements in how in-home child welfare services are provided and school attendance policies are administered. It’s important that the mayor and D.C. Council come up with a timeline and the resources to make these needed fixes.