by Elizabeth Gibbons
Improvements to Child Welfare Services in Connecticut
Every state child welfare agency faces challenges made worse by national immigration policies and the opioid crisis. Connecticut is no different; setbacks and tragedies plague the state’s Department of Children and Families. But despite this, Connecticut has been praised as a national model of child welfare practice by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Harvard Kennedy School, and leaders from around the country. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz has transformed Connecticut’s child welfare system from an institutional and bureaucratic giant to a smaller, community-based partner organization for families and children. They have worked to lower the number of unnecessary child removals, ensure that children entering state custody live in families instead of group placements, and keep families and children closer to their communities. There are now 10% fewer children in care in the state, the number of children in care living with kin has doubled, and reliance on out-of-state care has been eliminated. Treatment services used to help families challenged by substance abuse, mental health, or domestic violence have been improved by relying on innovative and effective programs. Finally, Connecticut has dramatically reduced the population of juveniles in their justice system; in 2017 there were fewer than 40 youths involved in the system. These reforms were accomplished with a reduced budget and show that time, effort, patience, and an open mind to accept new methods are the key to improving functionality of child welfare agencies.
Separation of American Families
The separation of immigrant families at the border has caused a public outcry. But the forcible separation of families happens every day across America, as well, as detailed recently in Slate. Child welfare services across the country are recognizing the devastating impact of separation, and are employing new practices to keep families together and work with the parents to ensure the safety of their children. Children rarely thrive when removed from their homes, and that psychological damage often manifests into a cycle of trauma and abuse that results in removals and investigations. Parents and children who have been reunited rarely make media headlines, but it is important to highlight success stories and publish data so other communities can implement effective practices. Furthermore, efforts to make data about parents and practices that are most effective at retaining family stability transparent and accessible to all child welfare agencies is a critical step in shifting the system. Effective casework must include listening to parents, understanding what is pushing fragile families to distress, and knowing how caseworkers can help fill the cracks.
Marcia Lowry and New York
Marcia Lowry, a child welfare attorney best known for her big-ticket settlements against unjust child welfare or foster care systems, has just received a significant amount of new funding. Her legal aid firm, A Better Childhood, will soon double its staff and open a second office in New York City. Lowry and her firm are working to take on new cases and more fully develop and define constitutional rights of children. Lowry has been leading the legal fight to fully define and defend the rights of children, especially children in state care. She worked with the ACLU before founding her own organization, Children’s Rights, where she continued bring high-profile, class-action lawsuits against child welfare systems. Although she has many supporters, her detractors claim that her narrow focus on the foster care system does not allow for the support of struggling biological families. Whether class action lawsuits produce durable change is still up for debate; in the meantime, Lowry and A Better Childhood will soon be in New York City.
Oklahoma and Children in Foster Care
Oklahoma’s foster care system has struggled with high rates of abuse and neglect for years. Recent data suggests that such a high rate of abuse is due, in part, to the state’s high levels of opioid addiction and often-untreated mental illness. The 2019 fiscal budget has allocated $11 million more bolster mental health services across the state. Medical marijuana was recently legalized; child welfare advocates are watching to see if and how it affects the safety of children in foster care.
We’ve talked about Maine several times in Last Week in Child Welfare, as the state’s Department of Health and Human Services is undergoing a multi-tiered investigation following two high-profile deaths. The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability is currently conducting a fast-tracked investigation into the efficacy of the department, including employee retention and training, investigation practices, and funding. DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton has been subpoenaed after failing to appear at a legislative panel, despite multiple personal assurances. The commissioner is expected to answer some tough questions that focus on why the system is flawed. It is hoped that his testimony will help guide legislative reforms.
Arizona and LGBTQ Rights in the Foster Care System
The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) initiative All Children – All Families is working to change how individuals who identify as LGBTQ are treated in the foster care system. Often, same-sex couples are denied the chance to foster or adopt vulnerable youth in need of a home simply because of their sexual orientation. This is an unacceptable practice that ultimately harms the youth languishing in foster homes or group homes. Arizona child welfare agencies are working to include more LGBTQ-identifying couples who can provide supportive, nurturing homes for the 14,000 children in the foster system.
The HRC initiative is working with child welfare agencies at the state level to establish practices and language supporting these families, as well as offering a Seal of Recognition to the agencies that thrive; Arizona has been awarded this seal.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.