City Social Services under fire

Social Services officials in Manassas refused Friday to discuss what, if any, involvement the agency had in investigating two city parents arrested Tuesday.

Leon P. Crawford, 35, and Kimberly K. Crawford, 30, were charged Tuesday with two counts of felony child abuse and felony reckless endangerment after city school officials discovered that the children had frostbite on their toes.

Social Services had received “numerous” complaints from school officials and one from police since December of 2001, said Sgt. Marc Woolverton, a Manassas police spokesman.

Social Services is aware that both school officials and the police thought there was a reason to investigate the Crawfords, he said.

“I’m not able to confirm or deny that Social Services is involved with any family,” said Jim Oliver, director of Manassas’ Department of Social Services. Oliver cited privacy issues as the reason.

City Manager Lawrence Hughes was preparing a report on the case to give to the mayor and City Council, Mayor Marvin L. Gillum said Friday afternoon. Gillum refused to comment on the case until he received that briefing.

Hughes did not return repeated phone calls on Friday.

Social Services may have received a number of minor complaints that, within the confines of the law, did not allow the department to remove the children from their parents, said Judith A. Hays, city councilwoman and former director of the Manassas Department of Social Services.

Hays said that when an egregious offense occurs at a later date, hindsight opens the door for easy criticism from people who do not understand the legal confines social workers face in protecting children.

The Crawfords’ children, a 1-year-old girl, an 8-year-old boy, an 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl lived in their parents’ 9005 Bonham Circle town house with bare plywood floors, police said.

They slept on those floors with no beds; a window in the children’s bedroom was broken out and the home had “minimal heat,” police said. There was nothing on the walls and nothing on the floors, Woolverton said. In one room there was only a green blanket. The children’s bedroom window is covered right now by a small wooden plank.

“I know how tough it is to implement child abuse and neglect laws that always honor parental rights,” Hays said. “You really have to have clear and convincing evidence that something is wrong before you can order the family to do anything or get the children removed.”

All four children have been taken from their parents and placed in foster care, although the two younger children remained with the Crawfords until their Tuesday arrests.

The 11-year-old boy is in a rehabilitation facility for ongoing treatment of his frostbite that prompted Grace E. Metz Middle School officials on Dec. 9 to have him and his sister taken to Prince William Hospital for evaluation.

The front of the boy’s toe is black with “dead flesh,” Woolverton said. He and his sister were both transferred from Prince William Hospital to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., after their initial diagnoses.

Although Social Services refused to comment, police said they are investigating further allegations of abuse against the Crawfords. They would not comment on the specifics related to those allegations.

When a call comes in informing Social Services of alleged abuse, the agency screens the call “against criteria from the state Department of Social Services,” Oliver said.

If the call is validated, the agency investigates the complaint.

“A social worker is assigned and begins an investigation into the nature of the complaint. We try and see the child and ascertain whatever the nature of the complaint is,” Oliver said. “We do a variety of things to document what is or what isn’t happening within the family.”

After the maximum 45 days the department is allotted to conduct the investigation, they have to determine whether the charge is founded or unfounded.

Because there are different types of allegations of abuse and neglect, each specific report might warrant a different method of investigation.

“We have to tailor the investigative response to the case itself,” Oliver said.

A look at the whole system, as opposed to focusing on the Department of Social Services, would be the most prudent course of action, Hays said. She “hopes to look at the system collectively,” adding that she had the utmost confidence in Oliver.

Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.

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