Two more caseworkers have lost their jobs and another supervisor has been disciplined as a result of the death of 2-year-old Bryanna Harris, the Baltimore child who died of methadone poisoning despite her troubled mother's repeated contacts with more than a dozen city social services employees.
State Department of Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald, who oversees child welfare services, said she made the personnel decisions after receiving a final report from the agency's inspector general.
"We value and appreciate our staff," Donald said in an interview with The Sun yesterday at DHR headquarters in Baltimore. "We want to support them to do a good job. But when we find they don't do a good job, we will take swift and decisive action."
Donald ordered an investigation into Bryanna's death last month, shortly after the mother, Vernice Harris, 30, was charged with murder in the child's death. The investigation found that supervisors and caseworkers knew that Bryanna was living with a drug-addicted and mentally ill mother, in conditions that police described as squalid, but did not remove her from the house.
The investigation also found that Vernice Harris had presented herself at a city Department of Social Services office in May 2007 and asked for help, but the caseworker she visited did not remove Bryanna from the house. The toddler was dead a month later.
"We took action to terminate two caseworkers," Donald said yesterday. One resigned before termination, she added.
She said disciplinary action was taken against the supervisor, who lost leave time.
Donald declined to say what the caseworkers and supervisor did wrong, but the latest personnel action brings to five the number of staff members who have been disciplined or fired for their handling of Bryanna's case. A supervisor was demoted last summer and another caseworker resigned at that time rather than face disciplinary action.
The toddler's death also led to the resignation last month of the city social services agency's director, Samuel Chambers Jr., and one of his assistants, Alvin Parks.
Donald stressed that the "vast majority" of caseworkers in Baltimore care about children and try to do a good job, often under challenging circumstances. The city agency oversees 6,000 children.
The human resources secretary, who took over the position a year ago, said she is committed to making certain that workers have the tools and training they need to do their jobs properly. For example, she said, the agency recently ordered 300 cell phones for caseworkers in Baltimore.
"My management philosophy is, we will invest in an employee but we will not subsidize them," she said.
Donald has appeared before members of the General Assembly to talk about her reform plans for the troubled agency. She supports several bills that, if approved, would provide greater focus on preventing child abuse and neglect.
Donald said she wants to rebuild the city agency and is meeting regularly with administrators whom she has placed there to oversee reform efforts.
"As goes Baltimore, so goes the rest of the state," Donald said, explaining her reasons for focusing on the city. "It should be a high-performance organization, the flagship."