by Elizabeth Gibbons
Kansas is in the midst of reforming its child welfare system, but a new decision to change requirements for child protection specialists has drawn concern from child advocates. In June, there were 80 open child protection positions, thus prompting this loosening of requirements. Now, applicants can become “unlicensed child protection specialists” with only a bachelor’s degree in a related field and limited experience with child welfare. “Unlicensed” employees will have the same position description and carry the same caseloads while working under a licensed supervisor. In Kansas, there are not enough graduates from social work programs to fill the vacant positions; the new “unlicensed” position is an attempt to expand recruitment efforts and alleviate the pressures of a staff shortage.
Kentucky’s former child welfare commissioner, Adria Johnson, who resigned last month, has released a statement through her attorney stating that she was subject to “repeated acts of discrimination,” including sexual harassment from her male colleagues. The investigation from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services found no evidence to support her claims because the men denied the claims and Johnson declined to be interviewed. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has instituted a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, following a secret settlement that involved four lawmakers in the state legislature. The CHFS has released a statement stating that they are committed to a healthy, collaborative workplace and that they take Johnson’s claims seriously.
A new state law in North Carolina has set standards for providing child welfare and social services. Counties such as Pasquotank County are protesting these standards as being “impossibly high” and threatening to cripple local social service agencies that cannot meet them. The new requirements include mandating that 41% of children in foster care will be found permanent homes by the end of the year, that social services will initiate 95% of child welfare screening reports within required time frames, and that no more than 9% of children who have been maltreated will be found to have been maltreated again after a year. These are lofty standards that depend on forces outside of social service’s control, such as courts, judges, and individuals, and require more staff. Pasquotank County protests these new standards as “not tailored to the county.” State lawmakers have considered forcibly merging local offices into regional entities in order to improve on consistently poor performances; these new standards are seen as part of that agenda. The new standards take effect on January 1, 2019.
A quick glance at the data places Vermont as one of the top 10 states for child welfare, but this designation hides a more complicated economic story. Although Vermont ranks eighth in the nation for overall child well-being, it ranks 26th for economic well-being. Around one third of children in Vermont live in a home were no parent has full-time, year-round employment, and one third live in households that spend over 30% of their income on housing.
Vermont is still struggling economically from the 2008 recession, and the number of children living in poverty reflects that. Homelessness rates have increased, and multiple families are reliant on multiple service-level jobs for their main income. Poverty and homelessness are adverse childhood experiences that have physical, mental, and emotional effects on children. Those effects are immediate, such as illness or hunger, and long-term, such as lower graduation rates and higher chances of depression or anxiety. To combat these adverse childhood experiences, Vermont needs to improve on three things: housing, childcare, and transportation costs. Vermont is doing a lot of good things for their children and families, and the data shows that, but state lawmakers must be cognizant of the larger picture and start improving on more specific areas that affect the state’s most vulnerable.
The New Jersey child welfare department is entering its 15th year of court-ordered and overall reform. On this momentous occasion, Governor Phil Murphy met with the judge and independent monitor to ensure them of his continued support in improving child welfare in New Jersey. In the last 15 years, New Jersey has made exceptional progress, and Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Breyer believes federal monitoring can soon end.
The original settlement stated that every reform goal must not only be met, but maintained; this progress has been tracked in yearly reports. The state still faces some shortcomings, such as ensuring that mandated meetings between siblings take place and creating case plans for every family that enters the child welfare system. New Jersey is now working on the “hard stuff”—scheduling personal meetings with every family and ensuring the best individual care. Experts are optimistic about New Jersey’s continued improvement.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.