Arizona foster-care numbers rose over decade, as national numbers fell

Advocates hold photos of foster children during an April 2013 rally af the Arizona State Courts bulding in Phoenix. WASHINGTON – Arizona saw the number of kids in its foster care system rise significantly from 2002-2012, a time when most other states were posting sharp drops in their foster care rolls, according to new federal data.

The report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said Arizona was one of 11 states with an increase in foster children and one of only two – along with Texas – with significant increases.

Arizona had the second-largest increase in the nation over the decade, adding 7,296 children to Texas’ 8,294. There were 15,751 foster kids in Arizona at the end of March, according to the latest numbers from the state.

Advocates said the numbers are more evidence of a state foster care system in crisis, one that has been “overworked and overwhelmed” as budgets have been cut.

“There was a perfect storm of things – the recession hit, the budget cuts had to be made and so more kids were coming in to care,” said Russ Funk, director of marketing and family recruitment at Aid to Adoption of Special Kids.

State officials said there is no one reason for the increase, but expressed confidence that recent improvements will have an effect.

After reports in late 2013 that more than 6,000 foster-care cases had not been investigated, Gov. Jan Brewer created a Child Advocate Response Examination (CARE) Team of lawmakers, advocates and state officials to oversee those cases and monitor Child Protective Services.

And the Legislature this spring voted to give oversight of the state’s foster care system to a new Department of Child Safety.

Jennifer Bowser, a spokeswoman for the new department, said she has seen improvements made “all over the place” to the state’s child care system since the agency’s creation.

Bowser said the state is revamping its training process for caseworkers, has reviewed legislation for additional staffing and is making significant progress on backlogged cases.

The 15,751 children in out-of-home care this March represented an increase of 714 children from the previous year, according to the state.

While the state is attempting to improve the child protective services system and provide more preventive services, families are still faced with challenges that put them in difficult situations – situations that can lead to their children being placed in foster care.

“There are a variety of different reasons that children become neglected or put at risk of being neglected when their parents are struggling,” Funk said.

Beth Rosenberg, director of child welfare and juvenile justice at Children’s Action Alliance, said the increases are occurring because of a system that has been “overworked and overwhelmed.”

“We were bringing more kids in to the system than the kids were leaving the system,” she said.

Funk said a prime factor for the surge of children in the Arizona foster care system was budget cuts during the recession that led to reductions in preventive services, such as parenting skill workshops and addiction rehab support.

And while the system was gaining kids, Funk said, there are “fewer caseworkers handling more cases with less services in place to help return those children” to their families.

Bowser agreed that socioeconomic challenges and substance-abuse issues could make it more likely that a child is removed from his or her home.

“If we can provide more prevention services – early intervention services – the hope is to not have the children need to be removed,” she said.

Report: Mass. not attentive to core issues behind child welfare cases

Little Jeremiah

Little Jeremiah

STATE HOUSE -- While the Department of Children and Families mishandled the case of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, a new independent review of the child welfare agency absolved the department of direct responsibility for the boy's death in a report outlining systemic staffing, policy and technology shortcomings.

The Patrick administration planned on Wednesday to release the final report from the Child Welfare League of America, which the state hired to examine the embattled child welfare agency. Gov. Deval Patrick, who is traveling in Israel on a business development trade mission, asked the organization to conduct a review of the department following well-documented lapses in case management that led, in the case of the 5-year-old Oliver, to the department losing track of the boy whose body was found on the side of a highway in Sterling last month.

"While there is significant evidence that some DCF staff did not do their jobs in the Oliver case, there is not evidence that DCF's actions and failures caused Jeremiah's death. DCF and many of the adults in Jeremiah's life failed to protect him," the report's authors wrote.

The findings of the report, a summary of which was provided to the News Service, build on preliminary recommendations offered in March by CWLA including a redistricting of DCF offices to balance social worker caseloads and the need to deploy more technology for use by social workers.

Many of those suggestions are in the process of being implemented, including hiring, though caseloads remain at an all-time high for the past 20 years fueled by increased substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence concerns and increased reporting from the community and "heightened vigilance" at DCF.

The report said Jeremiah's siblings have received "excellent supports and services" since being taken into DCF custody and are being given "everything they need to overcome the trauma of their experiences and the loss of their brother."

Patrick and the Legislature have been pouring new resources into DCF this year to facilitate hiring to lower caseloads, but CWLA suggests that recommended hiring of additional managerial staff, caseworkers, and specialists in substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence counseling will require "additional funding, beyond what has been recommended in the FY15 budget proposals."

The report also recommends increased funding for substance abuse treatment.

"To prevent the deaths of children, like Jeremiah, who come to the attention of DCF because of allegations of abuse and neglect, we must look beyond DCF itself; we must address the core issues that lead children and families to need DCF's intervention and services," the report said. "For many years, Massachusetts has not been attentive enough to these issues."

The Child Welfare League recommends that DCF continue to screen in for full investigation any report alleging abuse or neglect of a child 5-years-old or younger with young parents or parents with a history of drug abuse, domestic violence or mental health issues. The practice was put into place following the disappearance of Oliver.

 

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Corruption trials shed light on blood money flowing through Massachusetts DCF, Courts

blood-money1[1]BOSTON, This month, dozens of high level Massachusetts politicians enjoyed immunity in exchange for their testimony in the corruption, bribery, and racketeering trials of various legislators and family court probation officers charged with running an organized crime right through their State offices. Several co-conspirators have been convicted and jailed, leaving Massachusetts leaders with important questions to answer about the human toll organized crime may have taken on the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable families? Are the Probation Department’s ineffective “offender rehabilitation” programs paid for with the blood of Massachusetts taxpayers?

Regardless, Massachusetts leaders are now faced with the question of how to go about empowering good judges, social workers, and probation officers who are committed to rescuing themselves and the State’s most vulnerable families [from the system itself?]  In order to answer this question, we need to have a real conversation about why these same corrupt courtroom cronies repeatedly failed to save Jennifer Martel’s life? Where was the Department of Children and families?

Most men voluntarily engage in safe, loving relationships with their families. But Martel’s boyfriend and murderer Jared Remy was not most men, he was the son of a celebrated Red Sox sportscaster and a violent criminal. By September 2011, Remy’s privately bankrolled defense attorney Peter Bella had convinced Massachusetts judges to close a staggering 18 cases charging Remy with dozens of traffic, violence and/or drug related related offenses.

Instead of providing services to Remy’s victims to help them recover and stay safe, Remy was rewarded by the State with leniency, therapy, allies, advocate, and other State benefits which his victims did not enjoy.  The State also targeted victims who reported Remy’s violent crimes by providing the offender with a fraudulently obtained restraining order, even awarding the Remy family sole and joint custody of the victim’s child. The court sealed the case after allowing the Remy family to terrorize the young teen mother through caustic, intrusive and expensive litigation spanning several years.

The sole beneficiaries of these State programs appears to be limited to the vendors who provided the services, as ultimately, the State’s sponsorship of Remy’s violent crime spree allowed it to continue undetected for almost 20-years.

At the time of Martel’s murder, Remy’s record was virtually clean. Only twice did the courts find Remy guilty, and on ten occasions, the courts outright dismissed the charges against him. The courts also granted Remy continuances without findings (CWOF’s) that resulted in dismissals on six other occasions.

Yesterday marked perhaps the first time in history that the Massachusetts court system created a meaningful plan to protect the public from one of the system’s best customers when it sentenced Jared Remy to life in prison without the possibility of parole for stabbing Martel to death in front of their 4-year-old daughter and several onlookers in August 2013. Remy’s arrest brought an abrupt end to the violent career predator’s court endorsed crime spree, kicking off the only peaceful time some of his victims may have ever known.

But according to Attorney Bella, there was no “pay to play” scandal involved with Remy’s case because Remy never received any special treatment from the courts.

In other words, the Remy case was just some deadly business as usual in the Massachusetts courts.

“If there’s a sign of hope that arises from Martel’s vicious murder,” says former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, “let it be that the public takes a closer look at the gushing flow of money from DC that literally rewards violent male offenders with cash, therapy and training programs AFTER they get in trouble with the courts for assaulting the crime victims who live with them.”

Read more at:Corruption trials shed light on blood money flowing through Massachusetts DCF, Courts

 

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House Ways and Means Committee Discusses Obama Plan on Psychotropics on Foster children

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources heard testimony yesterday on the disproportionate use of psychotropic medications on foster youths, and the president’s $750 million proposal to address the issue.

The hearing yesterday was spurred along by the presence of a celebrity witness, talk show host “Dr. Phil” McGraw.

“These drugs can change and even save lives,” McGraw told the committee. But with foster youths, they are “too often misused as chemical straitjackets,” prescribed to mitigate “undesirable behavior” and make foster youths “less inconvenient.”

The use of psychotropics on foster youths has received attention from several corners in both houses of Congress and the White House in recent months. President Barack Obama proposed in his fiscal 2015 budget a $750 million, 10-year plan to help states develop different ways to address mental health challenges among foster youths.

Last week, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee said the committee plans to “play offense” on what Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called “mind-bending drugs.”

Youth-Shadow-Day_0

Ways and Means leadership from both parties asserted an interest in addressing the issue. “This is a bipartisan issue,” said Subcommittee Chairman David Reichert, “We are together on this.”

A 2011 law shepherded through Ways and Means required states to share their prescription and monitoring protocols with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Everyone agrees that these drugs are flowing too much,” McGraw said. “The real question is, why? Why is this happening?”

The president’s proposal is a two-pronged plan that focuses mostly on building the ability of states to treat foster youths without psychotropic drugs – or at least with less drugs – and then rewarding states for lowering reliance on the drugs.

The first part is a $50 million a year, five-year investment by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). That mandatory spending would “encourage the use of evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment of trauma and mental health disorders” among foster youth.

The second part is a $500 million Medicaid demonstration program that would provide performance-based Medicaid incentive payments to improve care coordination and delivery of evidence-based services for foster youth.

One key element of those demonstrations would be improved collaboration between child welfare and health services agencies.

“You’d think that child welfare and mental health systems would work together a lot; you’d be very wrong,” said Dr. Michael Naylor, who helps lead a medication oversight partnership between the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

ACF official Joo Yuen Chang testified that the agency found a services gap as it engaged more local systems about psychiatric medications.

“Child welfare agencies did not have access to the research-based, non-pharmacological, mental health treatments for the conditions for which many of these children were being medicated,” Chang said at the hearing.

The Dr. Phil Foundation is one of the 110 organizations to sign a letter in support of the Obama proposal, which ranking minority member Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced for the record.

But McGraw also suggested a more nefarious reason for overreliance on medications.

“It’s pay for pathology,” said McGraw, who is also a spokesman for Court Appointed Special Advocates. “More prescriptions, less treatment. More prescriptions, less treatment. These children deserve better than that.”

Read More at: House Ways and Means Committee Discusses Obama Plan on Psychotropics | The Chronicle of Social Change:

 

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TX: SUNSET COMMISSION REPORT RELEASES INCLUDE FAMILY, PROTECTIVE SERVICES

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.

TX: SUNSET COMMISSION REPORT RELEASES INCLUDE FAMILY, PROTECTIVE SERVICES

 

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