This article features our client Christian Greene and Legal Director Tom Devine and was originally published here.
Christian Greene was born in Eugene, Oregon, to Paula and Jason Greene. Her mother was “the sweetest, kindest person, whom everyone called mom.” Jason Greene was an entrepreneur, “having his hands in a little bit of everything, primarily real estate and money management issues.” Greene’s mother instilled in her “the power of empathy” and caring for people no matter what the situation.
When Greene was young, her mother was heavily involved in a church that sponsored a program for women in prison. These women were giving birth but did not have relatives to take the baby and did not want their children to enter traditional foster care. The church established a network of families who would take the babies into their house, one being Greene’s mother. Greene was a young teenager and saw her mother take in babies whose nights and days were mixed up. Greene’s mother was “beyond patient” with these babies and a “great example of just love.” Her mother was not only an example of love but “love with joy.” Her mother also taught her “the power of connecting with someone regardless of status or what situation they come from, and how to truly live out empathy.”
Greene’s father gave her a lot of determination. No matter how many times things went wrong, he “always found a way to get back up.” Greene got the ability of intense focus from her father. He was very smart and always determined. Greene’s determination to follow through on her whistleblower journey came from her father.
Greene spent most of her young life in West Salem, Oregon, and attended a Mennonite high school, which provided a large influence on her understanding of non-violent resistance, pacifism, and learning “how to engage in the world in a very kind way.” Greene went on to Oregon State University and majored in women’s studies and ethnic studies with a minor in philosophy and ethics. Greene also was on the rowing team in college and graduated in 2001.
Greene joined AmeriCorps Vista and was assigned to Washington, D.C. She was placed at a high school as a Service Learning Coordinator. She decided she wanted to work in child welfare but needed a social work degree. Howard University accepted her in their master’s program, and Greene obtained her master’s degree in 2005. In September of 2005, Greene started working at a therapeutic foster care agency serving D.C. children and rose to a supervisory position. A situation occurred where Greene felt a child was at risk, and the agency refused to remove the child. Greene resigned in protest, knowing that ethical and moral issues were at stake.
This period proved to be critical for Greene. It taught her that standing up to management and resigning rather than accepting an illegal and immoral situation (leaving a child in an abusive situation), was not the best decision she could have made. A year later, the agency director advised Greene that the agency should have removed the child and asked if Greene would return to her old job. Greene declined, noting that the child had spent an extra year in an abusive home because the agency refused to remove them.
Greene realized a life lesson: walking away did not change anything and staying to work inside and change the system might be a better option. Greene wanted to “understand the origin of therapeutic foster care, how did we even get here? In order to answer that question, Greene started working as a Child Protective Social Worker at Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) in D.C. in the fall of 2009. She transitioned to a Supervisor after a year. From 2010 to 2014, she developed a reputation as an expert in child medical abuse cases and an expert in social work. Greene was the “first social worker that the Office of Attorney General had qualified as an expert on the stand for the purpose of testifying in a child welfare trial.”
Green qualified for Program Manager positions at CSFA and submitted her name but was passed over three times for less qualified people. Greene felt that a federal lawsuit (LaShawn A. v. Bowser), which provides a court monitor for CSFA, kept management from advancing Greene, as she had been very clear and vocal with CSFA that she was going to fully follow and implement the LaShawn decision.
LaShawn A. is a federal class-action suit filed in 1989 on behalf of the District of Columbia’s abused and neglected children. The lawsuit challenged virtually every aspect of the District’s child welfare system. It sought expansive reform of the city’s child welfare agency. The case was filed by Children’s Rights, Inc., a national child advocacy organization based in New York. Children’s Rights has remained plaintiffs’ counsel throughout the litigation. The case went to trial in 1993. Following the trial, the Judge concluded that the District of Columbia’s child welfare system was in “shambles” and ruled in favor of the Plaintiff children. The Judge approved an extensive remedial order imposing numerous requirements, changes, and reforms in every area of the child welfare system and brought in a court-appointed Monitor. The Modified Final Order continues to control the case today. The Center for the Study of Social Policy, a non-profit organization based in the District, serves as the Court-appointed Monitor.
Pushing Greene up the management ranks would have “amplified (my) voice” concerning CFSA caseloads, premature closing referrals, and investigations. Upper management at CFSA would issue “directives” that ran contrary to the decisions made by social workers working with families. These “directives,” according to Greene, appeared to ignore the welfare of children placed under the care of CFSA. Greene felt “my ethics were independent of my job, I felt if I violated my ethics…if I violated my social work license…that I would not be able to practice ever.” If she lost her job, she could always get another job, but if she lost her license, she would never work in her social work field ever again. Greene made it clear to management that” regardless of directives if I thought it violated ethics or was not in the best interest of the child, I would not follow directives.”
When Greene was passed over a third time for a program manager position, she tendered her resignation. CSFA, to keep Greene at the agency, created a position called Special Needs and Medical Abuse Liaison, and Greene was moved under the medical department of CSFA. Greene noted that nothing would change if she left CFSA, so she continued to try and make a difference at the agency, implementing a life decision realized on leaving her previous job.
Nine months later, the Ombudsman position became available, and the Director of CSFA implored Greene to take the job. Greene was Ombudsman from 2015 to 2017 at CSFA. During this time, Greene saw CSFA “consistently make child safety decisions based on liability rather than legal validity or the welfare of the children.” Greene went on to note, “I was placed in a position where I had to defend the integrity of the program and the safety of the public while facing retaliation that was motivated by a not-so-secret agent of exiting a federal lawsuit.” The lawsuit Greene was referencing was LaShawn A. v. Bowser, et al. Civil Action No. 89-1754.
Greene would record the results of her investigations regarding complaints that came into the Ombudsman’s office. While conducting the investigations, and in concert with the observed numerous violations by CFSA that she disclosed to her managers, Greene attempted to record in an annual Trend Report submitted to the Mayor and the council.
Because of Greene’s repeated disclosures of “thousands of alleged rights violations” at CFSA, Greene was removed from direct access to the Director of CFSA, D.C., placed under the supervision of General Counsel at CFSA (a clear conflict of interest), and prohibited from testifying before the D.C. City Council, which she had done previously. Greene was also advised that the Ombudsman position would be crafted to the specifications of CFSA, not how it was originally set up under the Legislation B19-0803 Foster Youth Statement of Rights and Responsibilities Amendment At of 2012 (FYAA), which required a mechanism to “investigate alleged rights violations made by youth or on behalf of youth, then issue a public report.”
Greene wrote the 2016 Yearly Trend Report. CFSA withheld it for a year and a half before releasing a “whitewashed version with misleading numbers.” Greene believed that CFSA did the cover-up because the original data she compiled would lead to CFSA possibly being in violation of the court order issued under LaShawn A. v. Bowser.
Greene noted that she followed the chain of command and advised: “CFSA has a fundamentally dysfunctional ‘mechanism’ severely compromised by conflicts of interest, not adherent to Ombudsman ethics or the legislative intent. The entire situation is further complicated, given half of the CFSA children in care are placed in Maryland. The public has lost the ability to critically examine the agency and hold CFSA accountable to their duty to protect children in a transparent way.” Another concern Greene noted was that CFSA leadership did not consist of individuals with social work backgrounds. Instead, upper management was often political in nature.
Greene knew she had become a target at CFSA and was being retaliated against, marginalized, and working in a hostile environment. As a single mother with a daughter, Greene was acutely aware that CFSA could also retaliate by filing a false complaint against her personally and try to take her child. Greene placed safeguards in place that would block any attempts by CFSA to strike at her through her daughter. With a target on her back, Greene suffered from anxiety, knowing that CFSA would terminate her employment simply because she was doing her job well.
On April 24, 2017, Greene was walked out of CFSA without cause, with termination occurring in May 2017. Greene stated, “I know there is more to this journey. I always felt I needed to figure out what I was meant for…I always felt I was meant to do something significant. As Ombudsman, it became very clear, I always wanted to enforce children’s rights.” Being labeled as a whistleblower, according to Greene, “is a hard pill to swallow, I thought I was just doing my job…a really good job.”
Greene was asked why she was the only one who came forward to speak the truth about CFSA, and she advised, “Others told me that they have to feed their family and can’t afford to lose their job. I came to the realization that there is a hierarchy of needs for people. For some people, it is to feed their family. I choose peace of mind, to sleep at night. I can’t say what is important for anyone else.” Losing her job came at a “great cost” to Greene. Only two people have stood by her from her previous workplace but refuse to do so in public. “It hurts so much to feel so alone,” Greene notes. “I have come to a place of acceptance and respect for what I have done and what others have not done.”
Greene stated that she has a very clear vision of her path forward. She believes child welfare has a place in society, and social workers are agents of change. She also knows that “You fix things, you don’t hide it.” Because of her unique set of skills and knowledge concerning social work, the politics of D.C., the role of Ombudsman, and legislative mechanics of the District, Greene knew she could make a difference. Greene began a campaign to change CFSA.
In June of 2018, Greene filed a whistleblower suit against the District, noting that CFSA’s upper management whitewashed an agency trend report she was tasked with publishing and terminated her without cause. The primary allegation Greene noted was the manipulation of caseload data. In her whistleblower complaint, Greene said,” Ombuds Greene made protected disclosures under the DC Whistleblower Protection Act when Ombuds Green provided truthful testimony at legislative workgroups: internally raised concerns to CFSA leadership and human resources; and externally raised concerns to the Deputy Mayor, Deputy Mayor Chief of Staff, DC Auditor, and CSSP Court Monitor regarding CFSA’s violation of enacting FYAA reporting requirements.”
Since 2017, Greene has waged a three-year campaign to enact legislation bringing accountability through oversight of CFAS operations. On December 22, 2020, the D.C. City Council passed the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children Establishment Amendment Act of 2020, in no small part to the efforts of Greene and her advocacy attorney, Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project. The legislation not only established an independent Ombudsman at CFAS but provided investigative power and authority to have inspections, referral of civil or criminal prosecutions, and protection for whistleblowers.
When questioned about the driving force behind her whistleblowing and determination to change a monolithic government structure, Greene states that the determination she inherited from her father has propelled her forward. But most importantly, Greene’s daughter has been her beacon throughout the whole experience. Greene states, “My daughter is my main driver. I have seen children die in foster care, and at the end of the day, if this is not acceptable for my own child, how can I walk away from the children of D.C.? If I wasn’t a parent, I do not know if I would be as focused. My actions are 100% related to the respect and love I have for my own child. Empathy plays a part because I know I am not the only one who loves a child that much.”
Greene is represented in her whistleblower retaliation case by F. Douglas Hartnett of Hartnett and Elitok Washington DC. Currently, Greene is waiting for summary judgment in her whistleblower case in the D.C. Superior Court.
Greene has lost her career, her use of considerable expertise, and loss of her social work community since termination. She is currently serving as a consultant and mentor for Whistleblowers of America.