AGRAND JURY that investigated the starvation death of a wheelchair-bound 14-year-old girl under the supervision of the city's Department of Human Services - and for the first time urged criminal charges against DHS workers - has offered detailed recommendations to reform the child-welfare agency.
* It is "critically important . . . to prosecute those responsible for a child's death."
* Laws regarding confidentiality of DHS records should be amended "to make the agency more transparent."
Now, "errors are covered up or hidden under a cloak of professed 'confidentiality.' " It recommended that state law be updated to permit "the maximum openness of records consistent with the protection of a child's privacy.
"Simply knowing that others are watching and that dereliction will be exposed, might cause employees to be more careful in the first place," it said.
* The Legislature should authorize Philadelphia's mayor and other counties' chief executives to appoint an ombudsman to provide external oversight of DHS and similar agencies outside the city.
* Whenever a child dies under DHS supervision, a review team led by the ombudsman and including DHS employees and possibly physicians, child advocates and representatives of the district attorney, medical examiner and school district should examine the death.
* "At a minimum," child-fatality reviews conducted by DHS, the State Department of Public Welfare, citizen-review panels and the proposed ombudsman should be excluded from confidentiality provisions.
* The ombudsman should work cooperatively with another DHS oversight group already in existence, the Community Oversight Board.
* DHS must be more attentive to outcomes.
"Supervisors must move beyond merely counting numbers of visits or pieces of paper in a file, although those are important as a bare minimum," the panel said. "It needs to judge its own performance and that of its workers and contractors based on the achievement of goals set for individual families." *