Social Worker Fired in Slaying

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Date: 2009-06-18

2 Others Suspended Over the Pr. William Child Abuse Case

By Jonathan Mummolo

A Prince William County social services employee has been fired and two others disciplined for mishandling the case of a 13-year-old girl whose adoptive mother is accused of abusing and killing her, county officials said yesterday.

After Alexis "Lexie" Agyepong-Glover was found slain in a frigid creek Jan. 9, many people, including school bus drivers, said they had reported seeing signs that she was being abused by her mother, Alfreedia Gregg-Glover, but she was not removed from the home.

Several investigations were launched at the local and state levels, and an internal review by the county's Department of Social Services found that several employees did not follow proper procedures in response to the abuse and neglect reports, officials said.

"I would say that we made some errors, no doubt about it," said John P. Ledden Jr., director of social services, adding that the investigation's findings have led to procedural changes. "I want to ensure we learn something from this case."

Ledden declined to discuss the specific procedures his employees failed to follow. He said that in some cases the required actions were taken, but not within the proper time frames.

One change in place involves how multiple complaints about the same child are handled, even when they are determined to be invalid, Ledden said. Now, three abuse reports about the same child that are deemed invalid will prompt a further inquiry into the child's case, he said.

In addition, Ledden said the Board of County Supervisors gave his agency funding in the most recent budget to hire two more social workers after July 1, and he is considering increasing the training and number of responders on call after hours.

Ledden has also been meeting with county Police Chief Charlie T. Deane to discuss how their departments can better coordinate and share information, and he might ask the county to petition the General Assembly for less-restrictive laws governing what information can be shared across agencies in child abuse cases.

One senior social worker was fired Tuesday, and two social work managers were suspended for five days without pay, officials said. A probationary employee involved in Lexie's case has also been fired, although there were other problems with that social worker beyond the Glover case, officials said.
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Officials did not release the names of the employees, citing confidentiality rules about personnel matters.

Several officials, including Ledden, said they hope improved procedures at the agency will be a silver lining to the tragedy.

"If something good is going to come out of this, it's that the county has been able to learn from this," said Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles), an adoptive parent. "The DSS staff and the board of supervisors have really been focused on not trying to sweep this under the rug but, rather, finding out what happened."Ledden stopped short of assigning blame for Lexie's death to any of the employees.

"The particular errors that we made -- it's not like it resulted in the child's death," Ledden said. "There's only one person responsible for the child's death . . . and that's Mrs. Glover, if she's found guilty. Even with the employees leaving, they're not leaving out the door thinking they're responsible for the girl's murder."

Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) said that all the facts in Lexie's case are not out and that it's difficult to say whether her death was preventable.

"I don't think that this is reflective of DSS as a whole or even child protective services," Stewart said. "Clearly we had a few employees who made some mistakes, tragic mistakes . . . but I don't think it's an indictment of the system as a whole, or all the personnel in social services."

To those who tried to sound the alarm that Lexie was being abused over the two years before she was killed, the firings and suspensions were a welcome surprise. But they vigorously dispute the notion that county officials didn't share in the blame for her death.

"We understand that you didn't murder her, but if you would have done your job and removed her from the home, she would have been protected," said Marlene Williams, a bus driver who, along with her attendant, reported to police that they saw Lexie's adoptive mother drive off with the girl in the trunk of a car in 2007.

Williams's feelings were echoed by others who had made reports. In December, Lexie's neighbor, Wes Byers, reported finding her barely clothed in the freezing cold with a head wound outside his home. Lexie's former bus driver, Nancy Frederick, said she told officials that Lexie displayed bruises and marks that looked like she'd been tied up and that she came to the bus in her underwear. Others in the neighborhood said they found Lexie to be hungry and terrified to return home on occasions when she ran away.

In addition to Ledden's investigation, the Virginia Department of Social Services is conducting an inquiry into Lexie's case, which is expected to be released to county officials within the next three weeks, a state DSS spokesman said. The state has also conducted a Quality Management Review of the county Department of Social Services' general practices -- which will not mention Lexie specifically -- expected to be finalized within the next week.
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Deane has also ordered an internal review of his department's handling of its encounters with Lexie. Deane has said he hopes to be as transparent as possible about the findings, although some redactions might be necessary because of confidentiality concerns. He declined yesterday to discuss whether his internal review has resulted in any disciplinary action. Gregg-Glover's trial is scheduled for July 6.

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