A Message from Executive Director Cecilia Zalkind
July 24, 2012
Child Protection Reforms Need to Address Basics
The latest monitorís report came out last week and, as in prior reports, there is good news and bad.
DCF continues to make progress in many areas, primarily those that shore up infrastructure, such as staffing, training and supervision. But the most fundamental aspect of good case practice Ė caseworkers actually seeing the children and families under their care Ė remains problematic.
Some of the good news is very good. I cannot remember a time when the number of available resource families exceeded the number of children needing foster care placement. According to the monitorís report, there are about twice as many foster homes open as children entering placement. This is the result both of better recruitment and the continued drop in the number of children entering foster care.
Whatever the reason, it is a good result for children. The decision about where to place a child can be made from a range of options now, rather than having the limited availability of homes drive placement. That means children are more likely to be placed in a home prepared to meet their needs and stay there until they return home.
Even better, more resource families are kin. According to the monitorís report, almost one-half of the resource families approved last year were kinship families. It is so much better for children to live safely with relatives while their parents work on the issues that brought them into placement.
Health care services for children have also improved. Ensuring that kids have health screenings and follow-up care was a long-standing problem and it is encouraging to see this problem resolved so positively.
That is what makes those areas in which there is insufficient progress even more startling and confusing. The three areas in which DCF has made little or no progress at all involve the most fundamental responsibilities:
Engaging parents in the process of solving the problems that brought them to the attention of the state child protection
Adequate visitation is critical. How will a caseworker know how a child is doing unless they see and talk to him? How will they know how the parents are doing or assure the parent that they are working on their behalf unless they meet regularly?
So whatís the problem?
It seems that we are at the point where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Enormous resources Ė human and fiscal Ė have gone into rebuilding a system that was desperately broken. Now it is time to translate that investment into solid case work that can help keep children safely at home.
Letís look at where problems lie Ė is it regional or statewide? Letís see if there are barriers, like transportation, inadequate places for visits or limited options for visits on evenings or weekends. Letís consider creative ideas, like letting willing resource parents host visits in their home.
And letís not be defensive. I was taken aback by the implication that the FY 2013 reduction in the Department of Children and Familiesí budget was the reason for the agencyís lack of progress in these and other areas.
Yes, we should be worried about budget cuts. Letís remember that starving the agency for funds was the reason the state got into this mess in the first place. And the recent increase in caseloads is troubling.
But letís also be honest. These cuts are prospective, starting this month. They have nothing to do with how DCF performed on these benchmarks in 2011, the year covered in this report.
So, kudos to DCF for its progress Ė many of these improvements are significant and long overdue. But letís resolve the basics if we want to build a child protection system that we can trust to protect the safety and well-being of children.
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