SunsetAdvisoryCommission-DFPS630-630x286[1]Last week the Texas Sunset Commission released the first of its staff reports on the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) along with four other agencies currently under review. These are the result of the agency’s self-evaluation last September and public written input last December. The Sunset Commission is requesting public input to these staff reports through the Public Input Form for Agencies Under Review page on or before June 6, 2014.

Per its website, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is a 12-member legislative commission tasked with identifying and eliminating waste, duplication, and inefficiency for more than 130 Texas state agencies. Through Sunset, the Legislature looks closely at the need for and performance of state agencies. Over its history, Sunset has abolished 37 agencies and returned $25 for each dollar spent reviewing agencies.

With its last review cycle in 1996-1997, the current review of Dfps is the first time it has been reviewed as the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. The current Dfps review has been been postponed three times (supposedly) to synchronize its review with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) review.



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Problems in OC Child Welfare System Get Statewide Scrutiny

Ruby Dillon

Ruby Dillon claims Orange County child welfare officials failed to properly investigate alleged abuse of her nine year-old daughter.

A high-profile case, a judge’s stern warning and a critical state audit have made Orange County a recent statewide example for critics who say child welfare systems suffer from chronic mismanagement and poor oversight.

The audit, by the California State Auditor, revealed that child welfare agencies here and elsewhere can fail to do basic background checks and assessments needed to ensure that vulnerable children, who have been neglected or abused, are not again put in unsafe situations.

“It’s really hard to even put into words how many changes need to be made, but certainly there needs to be a tremendous amount of oversight and accountability,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), a Republican candidate for governor who identifies closely with the Tea Party.

“I think the system itself is flawed and needs to be fundamentally reformed from the ground up.”

The audit of agencies in Orange, San Francisco and Butte counties found a series of problems that, it says, could lead to children being wrongfully kept in dangerous homes or removed unjustifiably.

“This report concludes that these agencies must provide better protection for abused and neglected children,” State Auditor Elaine Howe wrote in an April letter to Gov. Jerry Brown accompanying her report.

While the three counties rely on safety and risk assessments, she wrote, “the agencies’ social workers frequently did not prepare these assessments in a timely manner, or at all, and the information used in these assessments was often inaccurate.”

“This led to flawed evaluations of safety, risk, and needed services and, at times, led to poor decisions related to child safety.”

The audit also found cases in which there were long delays by the agency in trying to contact children who couldn’t be reached on the first attempt; and a failure to perform background checks on caregivers.

Orange County fared the best among the three counties, though auditors still found that county officials didn’t always adhere to their own policies and they need better training and oversight.

In one Orange County case, officials investigating neglect of a young medically vulnerable child learned that a neighbor was taking care of the child because the mother was homeless.

But a history check wasn’t performed until 10 days later, after the neighbor failed to take the child in for “vital medical appointments,” auditors found. That check revealed that the caregiver had “a 10‑year history of violent crime and drug‑related arrests” and had lost custody of her own children.

Read more at: Problems in OC Child Welfare System Get Statewide Scrutiny


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NewsChannel 9 Presses Officials In Foster Child Death

motherchild_10444[1]Jennifer Jones had never laid her eyes on these public documents until NewsChannel 9 got them for her. She says the Department of Family and Children Services was stonewalling and she had no idea how to proceed.

Jones stood in the cemetery where she buried her two-year-old daughter and read for the first time what the autopsy revealed. "An autopsy was completed and there was evidence of bruising found on the back, arms, face, and torso. Had retinal hemorrhages and both new and old brain bleeding. Wow, I told them."

While most of Saharah's case summary, was checkered with black ink, it provided the only answers Jones had. In those 12 pages Jones discovered that at least one case manager expressed regret in their decision making. "A decision was made to leave the children in the home. Fannin county advised that they wish they had moved the children at the time they staffed the case and felt they were influenced by an outside agency."

With more questions than answers, we took Jones' story from Fannin County to Atlanta, where DFCS is headquartered, to find out who that "outside agency" might be.

The day we came to Atlanta DFCS told us they couldn't do an interview so we went the the next best place, the statewide office that monitors them. That's the Office of Child Advocates, and Ashley Willcott is in charge.

She listened as we told her about our seven attempts to get an interview with DFCS, eight if you count the roadtrip. "I think one of the biggest problems is transparency," says Willcott.

She was well aware of Saharah's death and she answered the question: who was the outside agency that may have stopped case workers concerned for the child's safety? "Sometimes foster families are foster families directly for DFCS some are foster families through private agencies and they will comply with the private agencies requirements."

Read More at: NewsChannel 9 Presses Officials In Foster Child Death

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LA County leaders disagree on how to proceed with foster care reform

Andres Aguila/KPCC Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas pushed for a blue ribbon commission to examine L.A. County's child welfare system. Now, the question is what'll come of the group's recommendations for reform.

Andres Aguila/KPCC
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas pushed for a blue ribbon commission to examine L.A. County's child welfare system. Now, the question is what'll come of the group's recommendations for reform.

A blue ribbon commission report on the ills of L.A. County's foster care system received a mixed reception at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, as members signaled widely different views on a path towards reform.

But all of the supervisors agreed to study it further before taking action on the recommended reforms.

The commission was convened last year after the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who had repeatedly come to the attention of child welfare workers, but had been left in a home with his mother and her boyfriend, who are accused of abusing him. The two face murder charges in his death.

Fernandez's death also resulted in firings at the Department of Children and Family Services, and a flood of attention – much of it criticism – on the nation's largest child welfare system.

Over a year later, it's unclear what will come of outrage that followed his death.

Citing years of reforms, reports, and even court cases aimed at overhauling the Department of Children and Family Services, commissioner Leslie Gilbert-Lurie told the board that the county needs an oversight team to make sure the reform proposals don’t gather dust on the shelves in the county building.

"Recommendations will come and go," Gilbert-Lurie said. "As we can all now recite in our sleep, there have been hundreds of them. The problem fundamentally is not a lack of good ideas or of good people."

An oversight panel is the reform several commissioners called the most important. It's also the most controversial among county leaders.

The panel has also suggested creating an Office of Child Protection to coordinate amongst the numerous agencies (DCFS, law enforcement, District Attorney, Department of Health) that touch on child welfare going forward.

“A solid structure that takes in good ideas, assesses them, funds them, implements them, and holds people accountable for better results than in the past will lead to sustainable change,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted against creating the blue ribbon panel in the first place, called the idea a "turkey."

"What this issue needs is not more bureaucracy and more commissions, it needs results," Yaroslavsky said.

The supervisor said moving resources from one under-funded department to a brand new one is hardly a solution.

"It's a non-starter with me," he said, though he said many of the ideas contained in the report were worth pursuing and more practical.

Board President Don Knabe has also expressed skepticism that more county agencies and commissions is that way to go.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pushed for the blue ribbon panel, said he's "undeterred."

"We have to have a more thorough analysis of (the report)," Ridley-Thomas said.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said no issue is a non-starter for her.

“There’s a lot of self-defense and protectiveness of the status quo,” Molina said. “I welcome any ideas to reform the system and make it better.”

Concerning the possibility of more oversight commissions and departments, Molina said she has to hear more.

“I would like to see how it would be more pointed and direct,” she said.

In all the agencies that deal with foster children: “there isn’t one person that’s in charge of that child,” Molina said. “We need to have a person who’s making sure that all those services are received by that child.”

The Board asked the county counsel and the county’s chief executive office to review the recommendations and report back on their legal and financial feasibility. That analysis is expected to be presented at the board’s meeting on May 20.


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Laid Off workers at Aviva

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - CPS cut off funds to nearly a dozen local agencies that provide visitation services - including Aviva.

Today, site supervisors at Aviva turned in car seats because they will no longer be picking kids up and reuniting them with their families for visits.

Paula Winters packed up toys and books, hoping this is not a goodbye for very long.

"We're all upset because obviously we've lost a job. But that's secondary really and I think if you asked anybody else walking in these hallways - what they're really feeling is it's about the children and families," Winters said.

Children that relied on Winters to take them to see their parents or siblings. She says the trips created a special bond.

Now Winters is one of 32 workers at Aviva forced to walk out the door - and walk away from those kids.

Because you go home and you care about these kids. And now we have no way to know," Winters said.

Now the rooms that Aviva says used to house 200-250 visits per week, are empty. And kids are paying the price.

"They don't understand. They don't understand. All they understand is last week they saw mom and probably dad too and from now on they're not going to see them until who knows when," Laid-off worker Linda Darnell said.

A setback that she says only means a longer recovery for both kids and parents.

A version of this column originally appeared in www.kgun9.com.