The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency allows the city’s most vulnerable children to suffer continued abuse by failing to investigate tips called into its hotline.
In 2016, an independent monitor screened 195 calls made to the hotline, and of those calls, believed that more than one-quarter of screen-outs required further investigation. The most recent report for 2017 did show improvement; the Quality Assurance Unit agreed with the screen-out decision in 94 percent of the 109 calls screened.
However, this is a small victory for the Agency, considering the tragic murder of a 16-month old in March 2017. Faneshia Scott, 28, was accused of torturing her baby Rhythm Fields for three months before beating her to death. Candice Glass, Rhythm’s godmother, was concerned for the baby’s safety and called the child abuse and neglect reporting hotline.
According to Mindy Good, longtime spokeswoman for CFSA, the Agency did not send anyone to the residence because “the reports did not rise to the level of an investigation.”
Glass told The D.C. Post, “I reported that [Faneshia] was putting Benadryl in the milk bottle to make Rhythm sleep…Her and the father stopped me from taking her to the doctor, so I let them know she’s not up to date on her shots, and I felt like that was enough of a red flag, and they didn’t do anything about it.”
Glass also expressed that she felt the operator she spoke to did not take her claims seriously. “They said that they was gonna send a case worker out there…and I didn’t hear anything else after that. I feel like if they would have came out, my baby would have been still here.” Glass claims that after Rhythm’s death, CFSA never contacted her. The Agency later came to remove Scott’s other children from the home.
Social services had rarely bothered to check on Rhythm, even after she was born with traces of marijuana in her bloodstream, according to Glass. “They gave her a social worker after she was born. She came maybe once or twice, and that was that.”
CFSA has refused to give The D.C. Post specific comment on the Faneshia Scott case, citing confidentiality reasons. “If CFSA received a report that a child in the District of Columbia was being abused or neglected or was at risk of abuse or neglect because they were left unsupervised or home alone, the agency would request a safety check by the Metropolitan Police Department or a social worker would do a visit to the location to check on the safety and well-being of the child.”
The Agency has long been scrutinized for its inefficiencies and failure to prevent abuse and neglect. In 2010, a federal judge found then D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration guilty of “blatant disregard” of its duty to protect the welfare of the city’s children in a class-action lawsuit that had been filed in 1989.
The most public criticism of the Agency was the Banita Jacks case in January 2008. The District resident was sentenced to 120 years in prison for the murder of all four of her daughters. Jacks’ eldest daughter, Brittany, had been absent from her high school, Booker T. Washington Charter School, for months.
Brittany’s social worker from the school, Kathleen Lopes, visited the home several times to verify her safety, and Jacks refused to allow her inside. Lopes made repeated calls to CFSA, but social services never responded. Three days after her first visit to the home, Lopes called D.C. police, expressing her frustration. “I need someone to go out to a home where I believe abuse and neglect is occurring, and I don’t want to be transferred to someone else. It’s an urgent matter. CFSA is pretty much sitting on it…”
The Agency fired six child welfare workers just days after the girls’ bodies were found. In April 2009, the D.C. Office of the Inspector General accused CFSA of failing to communicate with other agencies and potentially prevent the girls’ murders. The city eventually settled a lawsuit in 2013, paying out $2.6 million to the heirs of the sisters’ estates.
The high-profile case raised the public’s consciousness of child abuse and likely led to the 31 percent increase in calls to the hotline between 2007 and 2009. A subsequent report by the Inspector General in April 2011 claimed the Agency required further reforms, suggesting protocols be restructured to give social workers extended deadlines to close pressing cases.
Agency Director Raymond Davidson resigned suddenly in the wake of both the 2016 independent monitor report and allegations that the Agency had failed to find suitable homes for youths in the foster-care system.
It is difficult to comprehend the District’s ongoing budget cuts to CFSA. Beginning 2019, CFSA will cut funding to home visits to vulnerable families altogether. Officials have said they believe DC Health should be responsible for home visits. A spokeswoman for the DC Child and Family Services Agency told The D.C. Post, “A referral agreement is currently in place between CFSA and DC Health to ensure that CFSA families have access to home visiting programs.” Currently, the D.C. Health Proposed Budget Plan does not include increased home visit funding.
Just weeks after Faneshia Scott was charged, Shana Bartley, the Acting Executive Director for the advocacy group D.C. Action for Children, testified before the D.C. Council at the Agency Budget Oversight Hearing.
“Home visitors provide valuable education, support, and coaching to parents on parent-child attachment, brain development, health and nutrition, and early learning, and the evidence-based programs implemented by CFSA have been proven to contribute to reductions in child abuse and neglect…This is why we were disheartened to learn that CFSA would no longer fund home visiting beginning in FY19.”
With ongoing budget cuts, criticism from child welfare advocates, and continued child abuse and neglect in the city, the Agency faces a long road to redemption.