D.C. Child Welfare Head Resigns After Second Death in a Month

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Sharlynn E. Bobo, the embattled director of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), resigned late Wednesday night (July 17), a day after the agency publicly declared that it had done nothing wrong in the death Monday of a five-month-old boy who was under its supervision.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the resignation in a news release that was posted on his website.  The release quoted Bobo as saying that questions about the agency's leadership were distracting from its work.

Fenty immediately named CFSA deputy director Roque Gerald as Bobo's interim replacement. Gerald heads CFSA's Office of Clinical Practice, which provides in-house clinicians to serve CFSA clients.

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.

While child welfare directors lose their positions for lots of reasons, the death of a child is among the most common factors. (See "Child Welfare's Death Penalty," June 2006.)

The five-month-old was the second child involved with the agency to die in the past three weeks.  A six-month-old died June 25. A cause of death has not been determined for either, but suffocation is suspected in both cases.

The resignation of Bobo, who was appointed head of CFSA in June 2007, came as a surprise to local officials.  She had weathered a firestorm of criticism after the decomposed bodies of four sisters were found in a District apartment in January.

"I think that it's critical that we assure that we have leadership at the agency to handle the backlog of cases and to better serve the children and families of the city," D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D), who oversees the agency as chairman of the council's Committee on Human Services, told The Washington Post.

"I think our challenge is greater now that she's leaving, because I don't think the agency has a very deep bench," Wells said. "We will need to bring in outside support quickly."

Fenty fired six social workers after the deaths of the four girls and another social worker was fired after the June 25 death. That social worker, whose caseload had ballooned from four to more than 50 cases, had never visited the child.

In the most recent death, the social worker had met with the child's mother at least twice, warning her about sleeping with the baby at her side. Authorities believe the 15-year-old mother rolled over on the baby, suffocating him. There was no indication of any contact with the family since early June.

The five-month-old died on the same day that a D.C. Council hearing was held to investigate the backlog of 2,000 cases built up since the deaths of the four sisters in January.