At least six child welfare workers will be fired for failing to properly address complaints about a woman’s care for her four daughters, who were later found dead in their home, the mayor said Monday.
The decomposing bodies of the girls — ages 5 to 16 — were found Wednesday when deputy U.S. marshals served an eviction notice at the row house. Their mother has been charged with murder.
A social worker at the school where the oldest girl was a student tried twice in April to get city agencies to investigate.
At a news conference Monday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty played tapes of two calls the social worker, Kathy Lopes, made after the girl, Brittany Jacks, stopped going to school in March.
Lopes called the city’s child welfare hot line and said that she had visited the home, but that she was not let in by the mother, Banita Jacks. Lopes said Jacks told her she did not want Brittany going to school because she was afraid the girl would run away. Lopes reported seeing two or three younger children who also were not in school.
Call to police was passed around
In a second call — this time to police — Lopes expressed frustration at being transferred among several city departments and said she was concerned about Banita Jacks’ mental state.
“It seems that the mother is suffering from some mental illness in which she is holding all the children in the home hostage,” Lopes said.
Jacks later told investigators the children were possessed by demons and died in their sleep.
The six employees being fired work for the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Services Agency, and include a division director. More workers could lose their jobs as an investigation continues, Fenty said.
Sharlynn Bobo, the agency director, said that workers were “grieving just like the rest of the community.”
“We deeply regret — I deeply regret — our failures in responding effectively and rapidly to this family,” Bobo said.
Fenty praised Lopes, who works at the Booker T. Washington Public Charter School.
“Unfortunately, she stands out really because so many other people didn’t do their job in the way they’re supposed to,” Fenty said.
The mayor said there was never any follow-up on the three younger girls, who had attended the Meridian Public Charter School.
Lopes’ call was not the first time someone had tried to alert the city about the family’s situation.
Nurse tried to help in 2006
In July 2006, a nurse who had been treating the father of Jacks’ youngest two daughters called the child welfare hot line to report the family was living in a van and that the parents were struggling with substance abuse, officials said. The nurse couldn’t provide an address for the family so social workers did not follow up.
City officials also outlined several policy changes to prevent a similar tragedy, including establishing a system that better tracks students who are withdrawn from school to be taught at home. Cases involving child abuse or neglect allegations will not be closed until the child is found and determined to be safe.
An investigation into Jacks’ family was closed weeks after Lopes’ visit because child welfare officials thought the family had moved to Maryland — even though the family was never located.
Authorities have said the girls died at least 15 days before they were found. Jacks’ statement to police indicated they had been dead for months. The medical examiner’s office has said there is evidence that Brittany was stabbed and that Tatianna Jacks, 11; N’Kiah Fogle, 6; and Aja Fogle, 5, had other signs of trauma.
Court documents initially identified Brittany Jacks as being 17 years old; however, her 17th birthday would have been Jan. 5.