Child advocate: infant death highlights need for greater reform

The death of a two-month old boy who was under the care of a Philadelphia Department of Human Services contractor has spurred an internal review by the contractor and an investigation from the city.

Officials at Lutheran Children and Family Service confirm the child’s caseworker and a supervisor have been fired.  The boy’s mother, Tanya Williams, has been charged with murder.

But the incident is just the latest in the long-running effort to reform the city agency.

Following the 2006 death of 14 year old Danieal Kelly, an ad hoc panel recommended a slew of reforms for DHS, including greater transparency and more oversight of contracted agencies.  Frank Cervone is Executive Director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, and was on the reform panel.  He says while the death of a child while under DHS care is an unfortunately familiar incident, Lutheran Children and Family Service had a good track record.

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“We’ve actually been thrilled by the work of Lutheran over the years,” he says.  “They’ve been a key player in many of the reform conversations that our office and other advocacy organizations have been involved with.  So it was surprising to hear that what would appear to be professional neglect was happening on their watch.”

Cervone commends Lutheran for its swift action in dealing with the caseworker involved, but renews his call for greater transparency.

“You see here one of the reasons why the advocacy community would like to see a more open and transparent child welfare system as well vehicles or devices like a children’s ombudsman so that people have a place to go with their complaints and that there is a mechanism in place to do investigative work so we get to know what really happened,” Cervone says.

Cervone adds the city should have mandatory nurse visitation for pregnant women in the DHS.  Tanya Williams was pregnant while the Lutheran caseworker was visiting her, but didn’t receive any prenatal care.

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