Friday, July 18, 2008

Straight down the memory hole

Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty announced the resignation of the director of the Child and Family Services Administration, Sharlynn Bobo, on Wednesday night – in part because the agency can't seem to do anything efficiently.

Well, not quite.

According to the trade journal Youth Today: "By Thursday, Bobo's biography had been removed from the agency's website, as had the summary of the executive staff. Also removed was the press release detailing the agency's contacts with the five-month-old and his family." This is a reference to the case in which, for the first time since January, CFSA refused to scapegoat a frontline caseworker after a high-profile tragedy. That was one of Bobo's last acts before her "resignation."

Meanwhile, the city's attorney general, Peter Nickles, who, with Fenty, has really been calling the shots all along, insisted to The Washington Post that all the problems at the agency are temporary, and resulted from events following the Jacks family tragedy in January. The chair of the relevant D.C. Council committee, Tommy Wells, was even worse, suggesting on WAMU Public Radio's Kojo Nnamdi Show Friday that the agency was almost entirely fixed and functioning splendidly before the Jacks case.

Leaving aside the fact that the events since January were made vastly worse by the bungling of Fenty and Nickles, and the grandstanding of Wells, the claim is contradicted by one report after another from the independent court-appointed monitor overseeing the system. Yes, there was progress, but reports repeatedly cited continuing, serious problems. One example: the report in November, 2007, two months before the discovery of the deaths of the Jacks children, in which the monitor singled out issues requiring "immediate and intensive action."

Now, both Fenty and Wells, are rushing to embrace recommendations from the court monitor – selectively. They like the ones that just involve throwing caseworkers at the problem, but apparently have no interest in anything that actually would require CFSA to change the way the agency does business. And of course they've ignored the most important part of the monitor's recent Council testimony – the part where she says:

"The District of Columbia will never have enough child protective services investigators if the only response to an overwhelmed family is a call to the Hotline and the removal or threatened removal of a child from his or her family."