We Need Prop 122 to reform CPS / DCS

kl1bzn60_400x400[1]You've seen the headlines: Children abused. Children neglected. Children killed by their own parents. CPS, the agency charged with protecting abused kids, often fails to investigate..

But when the media, lawmakers or even ordinary Arizona citizens demand answers, CPS stonewalls and refuses to tell what really happened.

That's right, they won't answer questions and they refuse to respond to public records requests as required by Arizona law.

How can they get away with that?

The lawyers for CPS say that federal law prevents them from releasing this information. That's right, a federal law originally designed to protect kids is actually being used to protect the wrongdoing of bureaucrats instead.

Prop 122 can change that. Prop 122 forces Child Protective Services to be more transparent when children are harmed. Bureaucrats would be forced to give up documents that could shed light on where they made mistakes and more importantly give us insight into how we can prevent children from dying in the future.

Click here for more information on why we need Prop 122 to reform CPS.

Report Shows Little Progress for Child Welfare Reform Effort; DFCS, Advocates Agree to 30 Days to Develop Remedial Plan

Independent Monitor: There Are ‘Substantial Shortcomings … That Put Children at a Continuing and Unreasonable Risk of Harm’

(New York, NY)— Representatives from Mississippi’s Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS), national advocacy group Children’s Rights and Jackson law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP will take the next 30 days to develop a legally binding plan to address failures in the state’s child welfare reform effort. According to the most recent independent report charting DFCS progress, the pace of child welfare reform “must be accelerated.”

Children’s Rights and co-counsel filed suit against the state in 2004. The class action, known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour, cited dangerously high caseloads, untrained caseworkers, a shortage of foster homes, and a widespread failure to provide basic health care services. A modified settlement agreement, approved in 2012, contained an action plan to address the state’s consistent failure to meet court-ordered performance standards, but thus far the Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) has met few of those goals.

The monitor was unable to make any findings about performance in approximately one third of the 33 statewide requirements because of concerns about data reliability or completeness. In the 23 areas where performance could be assessed, DFCS only met or exceeded portions of 10 of the MSA requirements.

“It is deeply concerning that, ten years into this effort, the agency’s capacity issues remain profound and progress has been so limited,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director for Children’s Rights. “This month-long effort is critically needed to jump-start reform.”

As a result of a court order entered almost a year ago, Mississippi has improved its data management practices, and for the first time is able to accurately report on some aspects of its performance. However DFCS has not been able to produce reliable data on caseworker caseloads statewide, a critical safety measure that indicates whether a state has the capacity to effectively supervise and ensure the well-being of all children in its care.

And, while the independent monitor was unable to determine the condition of caseworker workloads, it is clear that some supervisors – the “lynchpin” of the state’s reform – are overstretched. More than 20 percent of supervisors oversee more than 5 caseworkers, in violation of the settlement agreement.

When data is reliable enough to draw conclusions about performance, it reveals some alarming deficiencies. According to the independent monitor, these are “substantial shortcomings in the defendants’ performance that put children at a continuing and unreasonable risk of harm. These findings underscore the need for defendants to act with urgency on identified priorities.”

For example, the state is falling far short when it comes to investigating allegations of maltreatment in care. As of June 30, 2013, only 36 percent of maltreatment investigations were initiated within 24 hours and completed with supervisory approval in 30 days, time periods required by the court order. Such delays put children at risk of ongoing maltreatment while in state care.

The state has also been unable to improve longstanding issues around the handling of investigations of maltreatment in care; the independent monitor noted that the state failed to conduct required quality assurance reviews of more than 100 investigations.

“It is unacceptable that the state’s ability to keep abused and neglected children safe remains so limited,” said Lowry. “These young people deserve nothing less than safe and supportive homes, with caseworkers who are able to meet their needs. If we are unable to agree on a plan during the 30 days, we will be compelled to act. A motion for contempt, while extreme, would be the only remaining option.”

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Oklahoma foster care reform efforts criticized

dhs[1]OKLAHOMA CITY —— Oklahoma is making lackluster progress toward its promise to improve its foster-care system, according to a report released Wednesday morning by an independent monitoring panel.

The second report from the monitors of the Pinnacle Plan implementation by the state Department of Human Services gave their first opinion on the state's "good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress."

The Pinnacle Plan is the negotiated settlement between the agency and the nonprofit Children's Rights, which filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 2008 alleging abuses of children in foster care.

An agreement was reached in early 2012, and the five-year plan started being put into place in August that year. It has 15 areas to improve, with goals and target dates, such as shelter use and the number of available foster placements.

The monitors make twice-a-year reports on how the state is meeting its goals.

At any point, the monitors could obtain court orders if they believe the state is not making significant progress.

The latest report expressed concerns about the sluggish recruitment of foster homes and therapeutic foster homes and the use of emergency shelters for children age 6 and older.

The monitors complimented the caseworkers for their dedication.

"Throughout, the (monitors) have been impressed by the commitment of DHS caseworkers and supervisors to strengthen the Oklahoma child welfare system so that it works better for children and families, although the DHS staff bear an enormous burden trying to do so in the face of very high caseloads and a shortage of safe, family-like placements for children," the report states.

Marcia Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, said this report shows Oklahoma has not changed its priorities regarding children.

Because voters abolished the oversight commission in 2012 in favor of governor oversight, Lowry said the state's top elected official should be held accountable.

"There is clearly a leadership problem here, and the state's promise to implement the plan the state itself outlined in the Pinnacle Plan is clearly not being implemented in many respects," Lowry said. "Although the people in charge have changed and the buck now stops with the governor, children are not any better off."

Lowry said the findings of not making good faith efforts in foster-home recruitment, shelter use and caseloads are "troubling findings."

DHS officials say there has been some disagreement on the data collection and interpretation. A nationally recognized Chicago-based company has been hired to help in those discussions.

Lowry said the lack of data is a reflection of continued bad practices, pointing to problems getting data during the court process.

"There hasn't even been corrected data available and that is so critical in many respects, like foster home and therapeutic home recruitment," Lowry said. "They cannot even get the data straight. I am surprised by this, and I do attribute it to a lack of leadership. They could have done a better job, especially with regard to recruiting foster homes, which is so critical to all of this."

While the monitors have not sought court orders to date, Children's Rights did express concerns to them about the state not giving promised raises to workers and foster parents. The monitors noted that the increases were made late and no orders were needed.

"It is disheartening that Oklahoma seems unable to prioritize the needs of its most vulnerable citizens," stated Fred Dorwart in a written release. His law firm served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

"Children in state care, who already have suffered horrifying trauma, deserve nothing less than good homes and the full attention of those overseeing their cases. The state's practices continue to expose children to harm and the threat of harm."

The report findings are not a surprise to DHS, though officials disagree with some of its findings.

Director Ed Lake has spoken publicly for the past few weeks about the challenges being faced, from high staff turnover to a need for supplemental funding.

The most significant is a jump in the number of children taken out of abusive and neglectful homes, from 8,500 to 11,300, at a time when these reforms are being made.

Lake said he was pleased monitors recognized the work of the staff and those challenges. But he said improvements have been made in each area even though some fell short of the goal.

"It has been an uphill battle at almost every turn with the unexpectedly rapid rise in the number of children being placed in state custody," Lake stated in a written release. "That fact alone has affected key goals in the Pinnacle Plan. The pace of a few of our initiatives hasn't been what we all wanted it to be, but that certainly hasn't been for lack of effort or support for our work.

"We believe progress is being made, even with the number of children in our care, and the data supports our belief."

DHS overhauled its structure of child welfare, hired about 600 workers, reformed investigative procedures and responses to child-abuse allegations and eliminated shelter use for children 2 and younger, and has nearly rid shelter use for all children younger than 6.

"This is not the same department it was two years ago," Lake said. "We are headed in the right direction, but it will take time to get where we want to be. This is only the second year of a five-year improvement plan, and we still have much work ahead."

The cost of the Pinnacle Plan is estimated to be about $100 million over five years. It received $25 million out of the $30 million request to the Legislature the first year, and $32 million out of the $40 million request in the second.

Lake requested $33 million in supplemental funding to get through the fiscal year but no action has been taken.

Though the funding falls short, Lake said DHS has fared better than other agencies.

"We are extremely grateful to Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature for their continuing support and investments they have made to enable these improvements," he said. "The state's financial investment has been considerable, and it's clear this critical work to improve our child welfare system is a high priority."


Highlights from the Pinnacle Plan Monitoring Report

Foster home development and support: Found that DHS was not making a good faith effort in recruiting homes and giving enough resources. Monitors were critical of the delay in establishing contracts with private agencies providing foster care support. They found a net gain of 50 homes last year while the goal was 615.

Foster care rate increase: One increase was made last year. The second scheduled increase has not been given because the Legislature did not provide funding in a supplemental appropriation. DHS plans to make up for that in the next year.

Therapeutic foster care: Found that DHS was not making a good faith effort in recruiting these more specialized homes. The explanation provided indicates some disagreement on how to calculate the number of homes available. A revised plan to meet the goals in this area was submitted by DHS to the monitors and is under review.

Caseloads: Is withholding judgment on good-faith effort until October. Monitors said DHS implemented several ways to improve the environment and turnover, including a redistribution of caseloads. Data was submitted by DHS in December for review. Monitors stated they "do not yet find evidence that workloads are improving in a substantial and sustained direction and DHS will need to demonstrate very significant movement over the next several months." An allegation made by Children's Rights in the lawsuit was that DHS routinely assigned workers at least 50 children and some had up to 100 children.

Shelter use: Monitors found DHS is making a good faith effort on eliminating use of emergency shelters for children 2 and younger. However, the monitors say they are "very concerned" about the growing number of children 6 and older in shelters. They are reserving judgment on good faith for the 2 to 5 age group until October.

Caseworker visitation: Is reserving judgment on good faith until October. DHS submitted data in March, and the parties are reviewing the information.

Placement stability: DHS and the monitors are currently reviewing data. Judgment on good faith is being withheld until October.

Permanency placement: DHS and the monitors are reviewing data. Judgment on good faith is being withheld until October.

Source: Report from the independent monitors of the DHS class action settlement

 

Oklahoma foster care reform efforts criticized

 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

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.

 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Children Committing Suicide in CPS/DCFS Care

“… laws, according to state documents, encourage counties and their private contractors to earn money by placing and keeping children in foster care. The county receives $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues annually for each child placed.”

[While reading this, please keep in mind the age of the story. The statistics have not decreased in the past 9 years, but on the contrary have increased.
Although the beginning doesn't give the full impact of the article,  please do read on as you will find it increasingly interesting and somewhat enlightening. ]

December 28, 2003
Troy Anderson
Staff Writer

Children committing suicide at younger age

Los Angeles County’s child protective system is one of the most
violent and dangerous in the nation, and its foster children are up
to 10 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect than elsewhere
in the country, a two-year investigation by the Daily News has found.

In 2001 in the United States, 1.5 percent of the 1,225 children who
died from abuse and neglect were in foster care, but in the county
14.3 percent of the 35 children who died of mistreatment that year
were in foster care, government statistics show. The percentage in
the county from 1991 to 2001 averaged 4.23 percent.
The taxpayer-funded county and state systems are so overwhelmed with
false allegations – four out of every five mistreatment reports are
ruled unfounded or inconclusive – and filled with so many children
who shouldn’t even be in the system, experts say, that social workers
are failing in their basic mission to protect youngsters. Nationally,
two out of three reports of mistreatment are false.

Since 1991, the county Coroner’s Office has referred more than 2,300
child deaths to the county’s child death review team – and more than
660 of those dead children were involved in the child protective
system, including nearly 160 who were homicide victims.

In many of these deaths, county Children’s Services Inspector General
Michael Watrobski made recommendations to the Department of Children
and Family Services to conduct in-house investigations to determine
if disciplinary action was warranted against those workers involved
in the cases.

Of 191 child deaths Watrobski investigated since 2001, he made a
total of 63 recommendations to address systemic problems to improve
the way the system works in an effort to reduce the number of child
deaths.

Despite spending more than $36 million on foster care lawsuit
settlements, judgments and legal expenses since 1990, DCFS
disciplined less than a third of the social workers responsible for
the lawsuits, most of which involved families who alleged social
workers’ negligence contributed to the deaths and mistreatment of
their children in foster care.

“That’s pathetic,” county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said.
“When you have a department that is responsible for the health and
safety of children there is no excuse to have a dismal record of
accountability like this.”

Meanwhile, in the various facilities that make up the county’s foster
care system, between 6 percent and 28 percent of the children are
abused or neglected – figures comparable to the rate in New Jersey,
which many experts have long called the state with the most dangerous
child welfare system in the nation.

In the general population, only 1 percent of children suffer such
mistreatment.

“When I stepped into this job, I said that too many kids are hurt in
foster care,” said DCFS Director David Sanders, who started in March
after the forced resignations of the previous four directors. “That
is absolutely glaring and the fact this department has never been
willing to say that is a huge problem.

“It is clear when you compare us to other systems, we have more kids
being hurt in our care than in other systems. That is absolutely
inexcusable. I can’t say that more strongly. If is a reflection of a
system that isn’t working.”

Despite the staggering number of child deaths and mistreatment of
thousands of children, Sanders said the department’s efforts have
saved the lives of hundreds of children over the years. He also noted
that the vast majority of foster parents don’t mistreat children.

And child advocates say for the first time in the county’s history
the DCFS director is taking unprecedented steps to reduce the number
of deaths and percentage of foster children who are mistreated.

“In the past, the system has failed to protect children in its
care,” said Andrew Bridge, managing director of child welfare reform
programs at the private Broad Foundation. “The new leadership at the
department has been left with that legacy and is taking aggressive
steps to fix it and protect children.”

DCFS statistics show the percentage of foster children abused and
neglected averages about 6 percent, but in the foster homes
supervised by private foster family agencies, an average of 10
percent of children are mistreated. However, the rates range up to 28
percent in some homes, Sanders said.

Statewide, the rate averages close to 1 percent.

In New Jersey, the foster care mistreatment rate ranges from 7
percent to 28 percent in different parts of the state, said Marcia
Lowry, executive director of the New York City-based Children’s
Rights advocacy organization.

Of 20 states surveyed in 1999, the percentage of children mistreated
by foster parents averaged a half percent. The rate of abuse ranged
from one-tenth of a percent in Arizona, Delaware and Wyoming to 1.6
percent in Illinois to 2.3 percent in Rhode Island, according to
federal statistics.

Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children’s Rights, was
surprised to learn of the percentage in Los Angeles County, calling
it “absolutely horrendous.”

“(Los Angeles County is) a child welfare system in crisis because
the children are getting pulled from their homes to keep them safe
and the system cannot assure that they are being kept safe,” said
Lambiase, whose organization has filed about 10 class-action lawsuits
to place state child welfare systems under federal consent decrees
and is considering what action it might take in Los Angeles County.

“It’s unacceptable,” she said. “This is a malfunctioning foster
care system given that its role in society is to protect children
from abuse and neglect.”

Critics say social workers are so busy filling out paperwork and
investigating false reports that they are overlooking the warning
signs of many children in the community in real danger and are not
able to properly ensure the safety of children in foster care.

“When you overload your system with children who don’t need to be in
foster care, workers have less time to find the children in real
danger,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National
Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Alexandria, Va.

Adrianna Romero Cram, Oregon foster child who was murdered in Mexico at age 4

Adrianna Romero Cram, Oregon foster child who was murdered in Mexico at age 4

The Daily News investigation found that up to half of the 75,000
children in the system and adoptive homes were needlessly placed in a
system that is often more dangerous than their own homes because of
financial incentives in state and federal laws. These laws, according
to state documents, encourage counties and their private contractors
to earn money by placing and keeping children in foster care. The
county receives $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues
annually for each child placed.

Some examples of settled cases involving the deaths of foster
children include:

–Long Beach resident Jacquelyn Bishop, whose twins were taken away
because she hadn’t gotten her son an immunization. Kameron Demery, 2,
was later beaten to death by his foster mother.

The foster mother was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced
to prison. In 2000, the county settled a wrongful death case with
Bishop for $200,000.

–Gardena resident Debra Reid was awarded a $1 million settlement
last year for the death of her 9-year-old son Jonathan Reid, who had
been in foster homes in El Monte and Pomona. He died of an asthma
attack in 1997 after social workers didn’t notify the foster mother
of his severe asthma and diabetes conditions – a tragic irony,
because the boy was placed in foster care after county social workers
alleged Reid was neglecting her son by not providing appropriate
medical care for his diabetes and asthma.

Reid’s other son, 10-year-old Debvin Mitchell, who received $100,000
as part of the settlement after he was wrongfully detained, said his
foster parents were “brutal” to him during his one-and-a-half years
in multiple foster homes.

“I thought that it was cruel and unusual for being beaten like that
for no reason,” said Mitchell. “When I came home, I had bruises
everywhere. I feel good to be back with my family where I don’t get
beaten for silly things for no reason and most of all I’m glad to be
back with my mom.”

Anthony Cavuoti, who has worked as a DCFS social worker for 14 years,
said the department does a poor job of protecting children.

“The nominal goal is to protect children, but the real goal is to
make money,” he said. “A caseworker used to have 80 to 100 cases.
Now we have 30, but we have to file five times as much paperwork. If
the workers put kids before paperwork and administration, they are
going to be forced out or harassed. With such a mentality, children
are always in danger.”

In a historic step to address the problem at the root of the system’s
failures, Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash recently called
for a historic reevaluation of half of the 30,000 cases of children
in foster homes to determine who could be safely returned to their
families or relatives.

If properly done by providing the services families need, experts say
this step combined with the DCFS request for a federal waiver to use
$250 million of its $1.4 billion budget on services to help keep
families together could ultimately reduce the number of children in
foster care and social workers’ large caseloads, giving them more
time to help protect children in truly dangerous situations.

“The court system itself should only be for those cases that reflect
serious cases of abuse and neglect,” Nash said. “We have to have
more of a talk first, shoot later mentality rather than a shoot
first, talk later mentality. We can do a much better job.”

Sanders said more than 25 percent of those children will probably be
able to return home. Concerned that two-thirds of his 6,500-employees
are working behind desks, Sanders said he plans to move 1,000 staff
promoted to office jobs by previous directors back to the streets as
social workers, which will reduce caseloads and give workers more
time to spend with families, a critical element to assure the safety
of children.

A version of this column originally appeared in amiablyme.wordpress.com.