State review faults city for losing track of juveniles

One-third had not seen caseworker for at least 3 months

November 01, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

One-third of Baltimore's youths under court-ordered supervision had not seen their caseworkers for three months or longer this spring, which hampered the state's ability to keep its charges out of trouble, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services officials found in an unprecedented review, .

The department disclosed the city's results yesterday, the day that similar reviews across the state were scheduled to be completed. Secretary Donald W. DeVore said he ordered the review to "create a baseline" from which to build new policies. Senior juvenile services employees could not remember such an extensive study ever being conducted.

"I needed to know exactly where we were relative to case management in the city in order to know what essential ingredients for case management were missing," said DeVore, who became juvenile services secretary in early 2007.

The Baltimore Sun reported in April on part of the case review, which included findings that one juvenile hadn't seen a caseworker in nearly a year while another was "possibly in Florida."

In a number of cases, juveniles who were supposed to be under department supervision became involved in killings, as either suspects or victims - most recently in the case of Dontay Monroe, a teenager on the juvenile equivalent of parole who was found fatally shot near Coldstream Park Elementary School last week.

To juvenile services officials, the most disturbing revelation from the review was that 691 youths had not been visited by a caseworker in three months or more, meaning that supervisors who are supposed to audit their caseworkers' files every 90 days also were not doing their jobs.

"We were sadly lacking in that area" of supervision, said Delmas Wood, area director of juvenile services for Baltimore.

Some apparent lapses in contact might be explained by employees' failure to properly update the agency's electronic database, said Tammy Brown, a juvenile services spokeswoman. "But that's important, too, because we are becoming more data-driven, and we need to have reliable information," she said.

Other problems included "AWOL" notations that were not further investigated, unclear notations about a juvenile's level of supervision and notations about adult charges but no juvenile caseworker follow-up, Brown said. And 10 percent of the 2,093 cases reviewed lingered in the system even though they should have been closed for reasons such as adult imprisonment.

Brown said none of the city's 82 caseworkers or 24 supervisors were disciplined as a result of the findings. After tallying the numbers in May, the department used a mediation group, Community Conferencing Center, to talk to employees about the results and about their concerns.

Practices have changed since the review, department officials said. A quality assurance unit now regularly checks in on the city's case management. Wood, a 35-year veteran juvenile services employee who took the city job this summer, also stays apprised of caseworker and supervisor problems.

"The magic of everything is, we're now paying attention," Wood said.

Three employees have been disciplined because of these follow-up checks, Brown said.

The initial review also made clear that the department needed more city caseworkers. Twenty-five are scheduled to start next week, allowing supervisors to stop carrying cases on their own, Wood said.

The department has also bolstered a "violence prevention unit," which now has a director, three supervisors and 11 caseworkers to monitor the city's 170 most at-risk juvenile delinquents.

DeVore says the case review helps account for a decrease this year in juveniles killed on the streets while under department supervision. Last year, by the city prosecutor's count, at least six juveniles killed were under supervision. Among them was Davon Qualls, 17. He was arrested three times after being released from a detention center, but his caseworker did not revoke his juvenile probation. He was fatally shot in September 2007.

Brown said three juveniles killed this year were under the department's supervision. But Monroe's death last week shows that teens can still slip away from caseworkers.

In April, police and juvenile services workers placed his name on a priority warrant apprehension list. Most of the 800 outstanding warrants at the time were issued when the youths either failed to appear in court or ran away from a low-security detention facility. Monroe wasn't located in that warrant sweep - or in two follow-up sweeps.

key findings

From a review of Baltimore juveniles under supervision:

* 2,093 total cases

* 691 youths out of contact with caseworkers for 90 days or longer

* 297 open cases that should have been closed

* Workers averaging 40 cases each

* Supervisors also carrying caseloads

Department of Juvenile Services study conducted in April and May

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