Thursday, November 20, 2008

The fable of Fenty

    Once upon a time there was a foster child.

    Like so many foster children, he was bounced from one home to another, never finding anyone to really love and nurture him.

    Worse, almost every one of his foster parents neglected him. They didn't starve him. On the contrary, they fed him and fed him and fed him – but it was all junk food. There was no nutrition. The boy grew so fat he could barely move.    

    At one point, there was some hope for the boy. He was taken in by a guardian who slowly made him healthier. When the guardianship ended, he finally was placed in a pretty good foster home where he continued to improve, but he still was very sick.

    But then that foster parent left, and the boy fell into the hands of one of the worst foster parents of all. This foster parent just didn't care about the boy. In fact, he seemed to care about nobody but himself. So he simply went back to neglecting the boy. Then, one day, the boy broke his foster parent's most prized possession – the boy shattered his foster parent's mirror. So the foster parent flew into a rage and broke both the boy's arms and legs.

    Hauled into court, months later, the foster father was unrepentant. On the contrary, he was bragging: "Well, yes, I broke the boy's arms and legs – but after that I took him to the hospital. I made sure the arms and legs were put into casts! And look – now he's almost healed! Soon he'll be just like he was before I broke all his limbs. So aren't I wonderful?"

    The fable is inspired, of course, by a press release put out by the administration of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in advance of a court hearing on the status of the District's Child and Family Services Agency in complying with a recent court agreement. But almost everything in that agreement involves undoing the damage to the agency that Fenty himself did by his grandstanding after the Banita Jacks case threatened to make him look bad.

    For instance, the press release brags about reducing – not eliminating – a giant backlog of cases. But it was Fenty's grandstanding that caused the backlog. Similarly, the press release brags about hiring new caseworkers – to replace the ones who quit in droves after Fenty scapegoated anyone who came anywhere near the Jacks case.

    CFSA may well spend proportionately more than any child welfare agency in the country, but throws a lot of the money away on needless substitute care and institutionalization. Full compliance with the latest court agreement will do little more than leave CFSA back where it was at the end of the administration of former mayor Anthony Williams, which built on slow, steady improvements made when the agency was in receivership.

    But I suppose I really shouldn't try to write a fable. Because, as the press release makes clear, no one can craft a fairy tale like Adrian Fenty.