For Immediate Release - May 28, 2014

Secretary Polanowicz Joins Child Welfare League of America to Present Report on The Department of Children and Families

BOSTON — Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz today joined the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) to present CWLA’s final report on the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which lays out a roadmap for strengthening DCF. CWLA’s recommendations will allow DCF to create greater consistency in policy and provide additional tools to help social workers keep children safe and families strong.

Over the past four months, CWLA conducted a thorough, independent review of the Department to help inform DCF policies and practices and identify areas for action in the short-and long-term.

“CWLA is grateful for the commitment of state officials, and the DCF staff and tremendous community voices that participated in this review,” said Linda Spears, CWLA vice president of policy & public affairs. “The legacy of Jeremiah Oliver demands that all who have spoken in his behalf stay the course, now and in the future, so that the Commonwealth’s children are safer and their families stronger.”

The recommendations in the report provide guidance for DCF on how to best enhance policies, procedures, staffing and technology within the Department. Many of CWLA’s recommendations are currently in the process of being implemented, while others will require negotiations with union officials or Legislative approval. CWLA will continue to work with DCF to assist with the implementation of their recommendations.

DCF will also convene a kitchen cabinet of child welfare advocates, experts, community leaders and state policy-makers that will help increase DCF’s community ties and build support and understanding around enhancements taking place across the Department.

“DCF has made strong progress over the past several months increasing staffing and technology through the support of Governor Patrick and the Legislature,” said Secretary Polanowicz. “I thank CWLA for these thoughtful recommendations and look forward to working together with our kitchen cabinet and the child welfare community at large to implement changes to help keep children safe.”

“Our top priority over the next several months will be working to put these recommendations into action,” said DCF Interim Commissioner Erin Deveney. “While some of the changes can happen in the immediate future, others will occur over the long-term and will require a continued commitment from our partners across the state.”

CWLA Recommendations and DCF Actions

Staffing & BUDGET Recommendations

CWLA recommends a comprehensive workforce strategy including adequate allocation of frontline, supervisory, and managerial staff to stabilize the caseload; the use of specialized substance abuse, health, mental health and domestic violence staff in each area office; along with credentialing, training, hiring, & workforce supports.

These additions will require additional funding, beyond what has been recommended in the FY15 budget proposals. CWLA also recommends the Massachusetts Legislature amend the state law which currently prohibits the Department from requiring a social work license, to ensure that entry-level DCF staff can be licensed in social work within six months of hire.

DCF Actions

  • The Department has been aggressively recruiting and hiring in recent months. Since January, more than 200 new social workers and staff have been hired to help ease caseloads and strengthen the Department, and the Governor’s proposed budget investments will allow additional staff hires. These investments will help move toward the 15:1 caseload agreement signed in 2013 with the social workers union SEIU 509.
  • DCF is working to decouple area offices, beginning with the five largest pairings. This will allow for increased management oversight and support for staff in the field and is expected to be complete in September.
  • The Department will draft a new proposal for social worker licensing requirements in line with CWLA’s recommendations, to be negotiated with the union.

Technology Recommendations

The report states that DCF lacks adequate access to cells phones and handheld devices to provide caseworkers with immediate access to supervisory support, real time case information, and the capacity to input information regarding key case activities in the i-FamilyNet data system.

There are few examples of other states developing mobile technology for social workers. CWLA supports the Department’s initiative already in place to provide workers with mobile technology, allowing them the ability to have immediate contact with supervisors and emergency personnel, document visits in real-time and upload photos of children to the Massachusetts iFamilyNet system.

DCF Actions

  • DCF is deploying mobile technology for social workers in the field that will allow for better remote and real-time access to cases. As a pilot, the Department rolled out 54 tablets to on-call supervisors in March 2014. The initial feedback from the field has been extremely positive. Beginning in June, the Department will issue 2,000 additional tablets to social workers and staff in the field.
  • With these mobile devices, staff will have real time access to view and update a wide variety of case information in DCF’s i-FamilyNet case management system including client contact information as well as access to business email/calendar and the internet. In addition, i-FamilyNet is being enhanced to scan, store and retrieve digital images, so social workers can implement CWLA’s recommendations to maintain photos of children in care.

Policy and Practice Recommendations

CWLA recommends continuation of the directive to screen in for investigations any report alleging abuse or neglect of a child five years old or younger with young parents or any parents with a history of substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, or unresolved trauma. The CWLA Team believes that it is necessary to continue screening and assessing according to the directives until such time as safety and risk assessment protocols, case practice model have been implemented consistently across the state, and a quality improvement plan has been developed.

CWLA also found that DCF’s Integrated Case Practice Model (ICPM), rolled out in 2009, is at a crossroads in its development and use. Over the next 30 days, CWLA will work with DCF to identify challenges and solutions to full adoption and implementation of the model. Current research on risk factors associated with the 0-5 age group will be used to ensure practice protocols for this population are built into the re-tooling of the ICPM.

DCF Actions

  • Since launching ICPM in 2009, the Department has utilized the model to stabilize families so that children can safely remain at home where possible, reduce repeat maltreatment of children; and effectively target DCF resources to meet the needs of families requiring DCF services.
  • DCF will develop and implement a plan for our case practice model to ensure that it is being used consistently across the Commonwealth and that staff concerns are addressed.
  • The Department will work with SEIU 509 to issue a final Case Transfer policy that requires face-to-face interaction when cases are transferred within or between offices.

Medical Services Recommendations

CWLA’s recommends the addition of medical staff to area offices. At each Area Office, staff should be responsible for conducting a medical triage within 24-hours of each child’s entry into care to identify significant medical needs for the child.

DCF Actions

  • The Department is increasing the capacity of its health care and substance abuse efforts by hiring a Director of Integrated Health Services.
  • DCF is collaborating with pediatricians to identify clear medical priorities to ensure that children with the highest medical needs receive priority for screenings and comprehensive medical assessments.
  • DCF will consult with its kitchen cabinet to establish an expert panel of MDs from a variety of disciplines to who can provide additional support and consultation to staff and medical personnel in difficult cases.
  • DCF has initiated a data-sharing reporting structure with Medicaid as an additional means of documenting compliance and better tracking a child’s medical history.

Substance Abuse Recommendations

Recognizing the significant challenges posed by the opioid abuse epidemic, CWLA recommends DCF, DPH, lawmakers, substance abuse programs, and other community partners should work together to develop a plan to increase the funding for and availability of substance abuse programs in the Commonwealth to parents and expectant parents.

DCF Actions

  • DCF has enhanced its training, tracking and reporting around substance-exposed newborns and now requires a clinical-legal review prior to any substance exposed newborn returning to the family.
  • The Department is increasing the capacity of its health care and substance abuse efforts by hiring a substance abuse manager and trainer.
  • Governor Patrick recently declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts around opioid abuse and directed an additional $20 million to treatment and recovery programs, in addition to other actions to prevent overdoses and restrict prescriptions of certain powerful, new opioids.

CWLA Conclusions

Addressing issues such as child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, chronic mental health challenges, drug abuse and addiction, multi-generational challenges, poor parenting choices, homelessness, cultural differences, disproportionality, parental incarceration, and poverty require diligence and coordination. To prevent the deaths of children like Jeremiah, who come to the attention of DCF because of allegations of abuse and neglect, the Department must have the support of the community and its stakeholders to address the core issues that lead children and families to need DCF’s intervention and services.

For many years, Massachusetts has not been attentive enough to these issues. Individuals, communities, and organizations must each examine their roles and take responsibility for their contributions to tragic case outcomes such as Jeremiah’s death, and be willing to work collaboratively to make improvements. Everyone must be ready to advocate for an overhaul of the parts of the system that do not protect children adequately, and ensure the appropriate levels of services and funding. The Department will be reaching out to its community, local, state, and federal counterparts to ensure a shared commitment to addressing these issues, together, going forward.

About CWLA

Since 1920, CWLA has been a leading, national organization dedicated to ensuring that disadvantaged and vulnerable children are protected from harm and have the tools and resources they need to succeed. CWLA is comprised of professionals who work with children, advocating on their behalf at the national, state and local level. CWLA publishes professional literature including a peer-reviewed journal, a magazine called the Children’s Voice, and performance standards aimed at helping agencies achieve excellence.

# # #