D.C. Struggles to Complete Timely Child Maltreatment Investigations, Find Permanent Homes for Kids, Report Shows

(New York, NY) — The District of Columbia’s Children’s and Family Services Agency (CFSA) is not completing investigations into child abuse and neglect allegations on time or finding enough permanent homes for kids languishing in foster care, and caseworkers are often failing to assess the safety of foster kids, according to a report released today by independent monitors.

The progress report, issued by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, covers the first half of 2013. It details the agency’s compliance with the court-ordered reforms spurred by LaShawn A. v. Gray, the federal class-action lawsuit brought by national advocacy organization Children’s Rights.

During the review period, Washington D.C. reached eight standards for the first time. For example, the District ensured that no children were placed in emergency, short-term or shelter facilities for more than 30 days, and that no kids younger than 12 were placed in group settings for more than 30 days, unless their needs could not be met in family-like settings. And CFSA finalized an agreement with Maryland — where over half of the District’s foster children reside — to streamline the process of safely placing kids in homes in the state.

But significant concerns remain.

By September 30, 2012, 40 percent of kids who had been in foster care for more than 25 months were to have permanent homes through reunification, adoption or legal guardianship, but only 18 percent did.

In addition, the number of maltreatment investigations completed within 35 days dropped to 50 percent, well short of the 90 percent benchmark. Performance on this measure has been steadily declining since 2011. Only 70 percent of abuse and neglect allegations were found to be of acceptable quality — an increase over the last monitoring period, but still below the 80 percent standard. And although the report states that caseloads for investigators were at acceptable levels by June 2013, it cautions, “recent data for the months following the monitoring period demonstrate that caseloads rose again.”

“It is time for CFSA leaders to zero in on quickly investigating reports of child abuse and neglect,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “The District’s children deserve nothing short of the fastest, most thorough response to allegations of maltreatment. It is imperative that CFSA improves in this crucial area.”

The report also highlighted other issues. The District is struggling to link at-risk families to community based services — referrals were made in fewer than half of applicable cases. In addition, workers fully assessed the safety of children experiencing new placements in only 20 percent of cases reviewed, short of the 90 percent standard.

“District leaders have proved they have the ability to fix some of the problems that have plagued D.C. foster care for years,” said Lowry. “It is crucial that they apply that same focus to tackling the remaining issues that negatively impact the lives of so many children.”

Children’s Rights filed the LaShawn A. case in 1989. Following a 1991 trial on the merits and a finding by the court that the District’s child welfare system violated applicable law, a court-enforceable reform plan was negotiated between Children’s Rights and defendants and approved by the court in 1993. In the years that followed, the District made only minimal progress toward achieving reform, prompting the court to impose the extreme remedy of a federal takeover of the system’s management in 1995. The District regained control of the beleaguered agency in 2000.

The full text of today’s report and a complete collection of materials related to the LaShawn A. reform class action are available at www.childrensrights.org/dc.