After two years of public scrutiny, internal and external investigations and the death of Katelynn Frazier, the Department of Human Services (DHS) will have a new director.
Alexandria city manager Philip G. Sunderland announced late Monday that he had reassigned the department’s director, Meg O’Regan, to another position in city government. His action came as new allegations surfaced in another case that the department had ignored complaints that two minor children were living in unsanitary conditions without adequate adult supervision.
“I am reassigning Meg O’Regan to another position in the city government effective Monday, Sept. 23,” Sunderland said in a memorandum to DHS employees and city department heads.
“Meg concurs in this decision. A new director for the department will be hired following a nationwide search. I have appointed Beverly Steele, who had oversight responsibilities for the department while deputy city manager as interim director, while the search for a new director is under way."
Despite the case’s allegedly having been reported to Child Protective Services at least four times in the past two years, the department found no reason to remove the children from the home. It was not until Sept. 3, when a detective was summoned to the home in Del Ray and requested assistance from the Office of Code Enforcement that action was taken. Code Enforcement condemned the house as uninhabitable due to unsanitary conditions, and Child Protective Services placed the two children with their father. The mother was unable to be located at the time of the incident and had allegedly been leaving the children alone for prolonged periods of time.
Latonia Funn, 43, the children’s mother, has been charged with one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She turned herself in to police on Sept. 16 and is being held in the Alexandria jail without bond. She faces up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500 if convicted of the charge.
BEVERLY STEELE has been assigned to a number of special projects since Sunderland became city manager in March 2000. “I am looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to make a contribution to this department and to working with the staff in the months ahead,” Steele said of her new job.
She has served the city in a wide range of areas such as housing, employment opportunities and as deputy city manager, overseeing human services, housing, recreation and others. She is widely regarded as tough and fair.
“New leadership in the department is necessary for us to move forward, and DHS employees can expect additional changes to occur in the months ahead," said Sunderland. "Meg’s capacity for innovative thinking and ideas and her energy, courage and dedication have been valuable to the city over the past 18 months during the development of reforms in the child-welfare area. But now it is critical that the reasons for these reforms be understood and accepted by DHS employees and be implemented to the fullest extent possible."
Sunderland also talked about public trust.
“The public has entrusted those of us in the city government to do our jobs and do them well. Nowhere is that public trust more important than in the areas where this department operates, which embrace the most vulnerable members of our community. When that trust is shaken, we must acknowledge and be conscious of this fact and meaningfully alter our ways to regain the public’s trust. The public’s trust in the child-welfare operations of the department was severely tested following Katelynn Frazier’s death. Moreover, events are still occurring that raise questions about the capacity of the department to protect children and to deliver services of the highest quality. This is not acceptable. Ensuring that the reforms are accepted and fully implemented will now be the job of Beverly Steele and subsequently a new director."
“I think Beverly Steele is the perfect person to lead this department at this time,” said Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “I support the city manager’s decision to make a change. The recent case concerns me greatly. We need to do a better job monitoring high-risk families that come to our attention.”
MAYOR KERRY J. DONLEY also supports the change. “I concur with the city manager’s decision to make this change,” he said. “It was necessary for us to move forward in implementing the changes that have been recommended.”
Councilwoman Claire Eberwein expressed concerns about the department throughout the Child Welfare League of America’s investigation and the city’s own internal investigation.
“We must restore public confidence in this department, and additional staffing changes may be warranted,” she said. “As to the current case, we are dealing with fundamental health issues here – the lack of basic sanitation and exposure to human feces throughout the house. There appears to have been no follow-up at the case level and supervisory level, and we need to get some immediate answers as to what happened.”
S. Randolph Sengal, Alexandria’s commonwealth’s attorney, prosecuted Penne Frazier and Asher Levin, who are both serving time in jail for the abuse, neglect and murder of 3-year-old Katelynn. He is also familiar with the current case. “I hope this is finally the first of several steps to be taken in the right direction,” Sengal said about O'Regan's reassignment.