National Newswire

Colorado Studies Restructuring
of Child Welfare

Bookmark and Share

To restructure, or not to restructure? That is the question in Colorado. Last April, Governor Bill Ritter (D) convened the Child Welfare Action Committee and charged its members--experts from around Colorado--with finding ways to improve the child welfare system in the state. The committee compiled a list of 29 recommendations, 27 of which have been "strongly supported by the local county departments," according to Karen Beye, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services. The two recommendations--#14, which would create a centralized call center for the initial screening for abuse, and #29, which would reshape Colorado's into a hybrid system--were recently sent back to the committee for another year of study

Currently, Colorado's child welfare services are delivered on the county level, with some supervision at the state level. CWLA also describes the child welfare systems in Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Virginia as county-administered but state-supervised. Beye explains that under the Action Committee's Recommendation #29, the 11 largest counties in Colorado would continue to operate their own child welfare services, but the 53 remaining counties would be split into regional groupings to be administered by the state.

Beye, who was a key member of the Action Committee, frames this recommendation in terms of the capacity of rural counties to provide a diverse array of services. "I think it really is an issue of geography in terms of how large our rural counties are," she says. Maintaining high quality services across a spacious and sparsely populated county can be a challenge, especially in times like this where there is pressure on the social services budgets. "One of the things we've found is that it's difficult if you don't have a) the volume of cases and b) the specialized resources you need," Beye explains. "It's not a lack of motivation."

But she and Governor Ritter believe that where a child lives in Colorado ought not to predict what services that child receives. State-administered regions would allow an economy of scale to emerge, making the most efficient use of dollars and services. Even specialized services would be available in each region, meaning rural counties would have a full range of services.

Besides, Beye points out, the state would not be covering that much of the caseload in Colorado. "The 11 large counties actually provide services for over 80% of the entire child welfare population," she says.

The Action Committee has already examined several states with similar hybrid systems, particularly Wisconsin and Nevada, as well as totally state-administered systems, including Indiana, where the recent transition has been somewhat rocky. Beye welcomes the extra year the governor mandated for studying Recommendations #14 and #29; she says they will need it. "We're putting together a plan for systemic change, what in Colorado would be a sea change." She and the rest of the committee need to look at all the details of a new system: "how it would be financed, how it would look, how it would be developed.... It will actually take that full year, it will take us probably a year or more," she says.

The group has inspiration for the next year of study and any changes implemented after that. Recently, an updated report for Colorado's Child and Family Services Review found the state was not meeting federal standards in several areas. Beye takes the criticism in stride, and explains that a less-than-perfect review can be motivating for the state employees she leads and all of the child workers and advocates in the state. "I think what it does do, is point out the fact that in Colorado we really can improve our system. We are absolutely committed to doing that," she says. "When the governor and I have talked it's been, 'We ought not, in Colorado, be willing to settle for just being mediocre on anything. We really should aspire to being one of the excellent states in child welfare.' The stakeholders, our county partners, and certainly the state staff have really moved to where that is the driving force."

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children's Voice.

Missouri

With many states considering ways to reform their juvenile justice systems, Missouri's method is being hailed a success. According to Missouri's Division of Youth Services, only 10% of the state's juvenile offenders end up in adult prison, compared with up to 40% in other states. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has also found youth in Missouri detention facilities are much less likely to be assaulted by other youth or center staff. The cost per child in Missouri is about half the national average for more traditional juvenile detention programs. ABC's Good Morning America recently profiled the Rosa Parks Center and the Waverly Youth Center.

New York

The New York Times reports that diversity in the city's foster care agencies is decreasing, with five minority-led agencies losing their contracts in as many years. Bronx-based Family Support Services Unlimited, a 27-year-old agency and the latest casualty in October, had "widespread and persistent problems and governance issues," a spokes- person from the Administration for Children's Services, a CWLA member, told the paper. Many agencies began work in the 1980s so that the city's black and Hispanic foster children could be cared for in their own neighborhoods by minority foster parents, the Times reports, but both their quantity and quality have since decreased.

Oklahoma

The state Department of Human Services, a CWLA member, will soon have fewer than 1,000 caseworkers employed. In May, there were 1,095 child welfare workers; in October, there were 1,056. The department plans to lower that to 997 through attrition. Although the reduction is a response to state budget cuts, Marq Youngblood, chief operating officer for the department, told the Tulsa World that the decrease will not result in harm to children. Oklahoma has about 9,800 children in out-of-home care, and both calls to the child abuse hotline and substantiated cases of abuse and neglect are down. Employee turnover rates have also dropped.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

Bookmark and Share

Have something to say?

Let us know!

Send a letter to the editor at voice@cwla.org.

Advertisement

ad ad ad2 ad2 ad