Joint Committee on Ways and Means - March 11, 2009

Senator Tucker, Representative L'Italien and members of the joint Committee on Ways and Means. My name is Angelo McClain and I am the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the critical work of the Commonwealth's child welfare agency.

Overarching Goal

The Department of Children and Families is charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect and strengthening families. We believe every Massachusetts child deserves a permanent home that is free from abuse and neglect. Inspired by this commitment, our vision is to ensure the safety of children by strengthening families in a manner that gives them the best hope of nurturing their child's growth and development into adulthood. As a result of DCF involvement, thousands of families have made themselves stronger and are better protecting and nurturing their children.

Scope of Our Work

This year, the Department will receive more than 75,000 reports of abuse and neglect that involve more than 100,000 children. On any given day, the Department serves over 85,000 consumers (40,000 adults and 45,000 children) in over 26,000 open cases. Of the 40,000 children served by the Department more than 10,000 or 25% are served in out-of-home placements. Over the past two years, the Department has seen a 13% increase in the number of reports of abuse and neglect; this compares to an average annual growth of 2% during the preceding decade.

The most notable increase among consumers has been with voluntary cases-specifically young adults ages 18 years or older who either chose to remain with, or returned to, the Department for care. In the past 5 years, the Department has seen a 100% increase in the number of young adults 18 years and older in our care. This number has grown from 800 in Fiscal Year 2004 to more than 1,600 youth today.

Strengthening the DCF Safety Net

The department remains committed to strengthening the quality of our operations and achieving better client outcomes by focusing simultaneously on "getting back-to-basics" and continuously innovating our practices. Toward this end we are integrating industry innovations into our basic practices in five key areas:

  • Keeping children safe
  • Creating lifelong connections
  • Ensuring well-being
  • Community-connected care
  • Effective leadership

Keeping Children Safe

We have taken a number of steps to increase our effectiveness in keeping children safe:

  • Research shows a correlation between frequency of worker contacts and better outcomes for children and families; therefore, we continually monitor worker's caseloads and implement measures to maintain the number of families assigned workers at a ratio of 18:1.
  • Our workers do a better job when they have access to the tools and supports they need. To ensure workers are equipped for their role, we:
    1. Send two social workers out on all emergency investigations;
    2. Improved practice for assessing safety and risk through implementing standardized safety and risk assessment tools;
    3. Made more digital cameras available to better document abuse;
    4. Strengthened our core and advanced training.
    5. Review the ratio of units per area program managers, working to address imbalances in ratios;
    6. Expedited managerial and legal reviews to gain quicker access to children in cases where the family is unwilling to allow DCF access to children;
    7. Timely access to regional clinical review when there are 3 or more 51as in 3 months; and to area clinical reviews of 3 or more in 12 months.
  • We have implemented a critical incident review committee and a risk management committee to ensure that we implement lessons learned from previous tragic situations. As a result of this work, we have implemented "practice challenge" guidance and protocols for the 12 most commonly difficult to manage situations.
  • Data shows that 55% of the most critical incidents of child abuse and neglect involve issues of substance abuse and domestic violence; accordingly, we have enhanced clinical support and consultation with regard to domestic violence and substance abuse issues.
  • We have strengthened our policies and practices governing the placement of children into foster care, creating greater management oversight and accountability.

Creating Lifelong Connections

We know that of equal importance to our safety objective is creating permanency for our children. We are doing a number of things to strengthen our efforts to assure that our children have lifelong connections:

  • We have enhanced family involvement in service planning, including engaging fathers more frequently and effectively; and involving youth 16 years old and over in permanency planning, giving them a greater voice in these important life-changing decisions.
  • The Massachusetts family reunification rate within 12 months is 77%, which is 2% above the national standard.
  • We have increased kinship placements, which now comprise 27% of foster placements.
  • In fy08, 780 children were adopted. This year our goal is to complete adoptions for more than 800 children. Last year, we improved our timeliness to adoption within 24 months from 26% to 34%.
  • We continue to make progress in achieving permanency through guardianships; this year 543 guardianships have already been granted.

Ensuring Well-Being

We are engaged in a number of interagency partnerships to promote the well-being of our children:

  • We have increased collaboration with the department of early education and care and the legislature to enhance supportive child care, resulting in 1,500 additional children being served. Despite reductions in the number of child care vouchers, working with DEEC, we have continued access to child care for foster and adoptive parents, and guardians.
  • In collaboration with DPH, we received a $2.5m CAPTA grant for substance affected newborns, allowing us to provide enhanced case management services by family support specialists for 60 families where children are at risk of being removed.
  • Last year, 435 youth graduated from high school, 82 youth achieved a GED, 41 youth graduated from college with a bachelors degree and 25 graduated from post-secondary vocational training programs.
  • We developed with DESE on-site resources at 26 schools across the commonwealth to address social service needs that are impacting children's academic performance. This resource is supported with the resources of local community organizations and state agencies in collaboration with school districts. Our Haverhill school program received national recognition.
  • We have strengthened our medical and mental health services by adding 6 regional nurses and a child psychiatrist to our medical services team.
  • We are working with MassHealth on an exciting project to establish a "medical home" model for DCF children.

Community-Connected Care

The Department's inter-agency work involving: housing and homelessness, children's behavioral health, substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence has provided for greater coordination of services and case management to ensure that our case practice is community connected, highlights include:

  • We fund 22 community connections programs, which bring community providers, within DCF areas, together to address gaps in local resources.
  • We have four patch sites ( New Bedford, Boston, Athol, and Lawrence), patch programs locate DCF services along side other community services, making access easier for families and reduce their fears about working with DCF.
  • DCF and Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing formed a joint workgroup to address equal access needs of clients who are deaf. This workgroup identified linguistically and culturally appropriate services, and are working to ensure communication-accessible services in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Effective Leadership

We are committed to doing what is necessary to strengthen all aspects of the department's operations to ensure the greatest degree of effectiveness using the most efficient approaches and processes.

  • In recognition that parents know best how to strengthen their families, we have included family representatives on our three most senior decision-making groups within the Department. Family representatives are active members of the Department's Senior Management; they provide valuable insight and recommendations on the direction the agency is headed. Casey Family Services has recognized Massachusetts as the only child welfare agency in the country to engage families at the highest levels within its agency. In addition, 52 youth are providing input to the Department as part of our youth advisory board.
  • Recognizing the importance of managing with data, we have implemented monthly and quarterly statistical reports to track key indicators and outcomes.
  • In order to identify opportunities for improvement, DCF engaged the Center for the Support of Families (CSF) from Silver Spring, Maryland to conduct an independent External Review, which required an assessment of current clinical case work practices and administrative oversight within the Department. The focus of the review was primarily on the Department's goal of assuring the safety of children and families, evaluating our front-end practices, to determine if our practices provide a solid foundation for achieving our safety goals. In its findings, CSF identified 18 practices that reflected solid case practice and identified 22 opportunities for DCF to strengthen its clinical case practice. We were pleased to learn that greater than 80% of CSFs 22 recommendations would be addressed through implementing our Strategic Plan.
  • In June 2008, we launched a strategic planning process to develop a three-year plan to develop strategies for improving operations and achieving better outcomes. As a result, we are implementing an integrated casework practice model that focuses on "differential response", a nationally-recognized innovation which will allow DCF an alternative assessment engagement approach to the traditional child welfare investigation.

Budget Highlights

Our recommended budget of $810 million (inclusive of all sources) for fiscal year 2010 represents a $25M million reduction from our fiscal year 2009 spending. Despite significant reductions in the budget in 2009, we've been able to:

  • Maintain foster care reimbursement rates;
  • Continue work to reduce caseloads;
  • Safeguard community based services;
  • Retain enough out of home placements to continue progress in reducing the number of youth "stuck" in hospitals;
  • Continue our work to increase the number of adoptions and guardianships
  • Preserve community-based and shelter services for families experiencing Domestic Violence
  • Continue a significant portion of our 'agency of last' resort role within the system for families with youth with developmental and behavioral health needs, especially for youth needing out-of-home placement; and
  • Maintain services to young adults over 18 years old.

Opportunities and Challenges

As we plan for fiscal year 2010, and anticipate an increase of 3-5% in our caseloads, the Department is positioning itself to become more efficient with the available resources; we are actively engaged in re-evaluating our clinical, management, and administrative structures and processes, the programs and services we provide, and the populations we serve. We project the fiscal year 2010 reductions will potentially impact the Department in six major areas:

  • Increased caseloads - we are currently managing caseloads within the 18:1 contractual requirement; given an increase in 51A reports, we expect continued upward pressure on caseloads.
  • More 'stuck' kids - over the past 18 months the number of DCF 'stuck kids' has been reduced by more than 55% from 130 in May 2007 to 57 in November 2008; reduction of service capacity jeopardizes this progress.
  • Availability of Needed Services - nearly all families with low service needs any many families with moderate service needs will be denied services or will we be offered that are less than adequate.
  • Failure to fully comply with Child Welfare Legislation - lack of funding will impair our ability to fully comply with the Act to Protect Children.
  • Inability to Implement OCA Recommendations - implementing recommendations made by the Child Advocate as it relates to high profile situations may present a number of challenges.
  • Further Erosion of Foster Care Rates Compared to the USDA Index - Currently, the Department is 16-23% below the USDA approved rates for foster care. The recently enacted Child Welfare legislation recommended, subject to appropriation, reimbursement of foster care rates equal to the USDA approved rates. Failure to address rates could result in legal action against the Commonwealth, and more importantly, difficulty in retaining current and recruiting new foster families. $12M is needed to increase foster care rates to the USDA level; alternatively, $6M would address half of the need in FY10, allowing for the remaining half to be addressed in subsequent years.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, please allow me to quote a few excerpts of a poem a young woman I worked with in Texas wrote 20 years ago about the child welfare system she grew up in. Her poem was entitled, My Mother the State.

~When my parents could not or would not; my mother the State was there.

~When my foster family could not or would not; my mother the State was there.

~When my social worker could not or would not; my mother the State was there.

~When DCF could not or would not; my mother the State was there.

~When I felt guilty or blamed myself, my mother the state was there.

~Throughout it all-no matter what, my mother the state was there.

In Massachusetts, we'd change the words to read "my mother the Commonwealth-my mother the community-was there." In ten years (or two years) from now, we want the most vulnerable children in the Commonwealth to say, "When I needed help, the Commonwealth was there."

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the work, and the funding needs, of the Department of Children and Families.


This information is provided by the Department of Children and Families.