by Elizabeth Gibbons
The Kansas Department of Children and Families in Kansas is six months into a complete, top-to-bottom review and reform. In that time, more than 20 administrators managing child welfare and state services have been promoted, fired, or shifted to other positions. New director Gina Meier-Hummel has visited almost all of the DCF regional offices and says that the changes are intended to strengthen the agency as the number of children in care and caseloads continues to increase. The ongoing review is being conducted internally and by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is auditing how cases are identified and processed by the child welfare agency. Every regional office is being reviewed both as a separate entity and as part of the whole department, allowing auditors to consider individual staff and overarching trends. Unfortunately, the Kansas DCF has had staffing shortages for over a year, forcing the remaining staff to be more flexible and take on more than the recommended number of caseloads. There is talk of creating a “floating” team of child welfare workers who can move from office to office as the need arises, but as of now, the Kansas DCF is focused on reforming their system and creating a more effective team of dedicated workers.
Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale reported on the state’s child welfare system last year, calling it “broken,” and has recently released a series of recommendations to reform and improve the system. He is also calling for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to increase the budget to $90 million, which would pay for more training for staff and improved programs for the public. His recommendations include changing regulations on data filing to help caseworkers and incentivizing counties to fill caseworker vacancies. The main takeaway from DePasquale’s report last year was that staff shortages and a lack of training created a backlog of cases that threatened the effectiveness of the caseworker and the health and safety of the child or family. More funding will help fill vacancies and boost training, thus helping those in need of child welfare workers.
Indiana’s child welfare system will undergo a comprehensive study this summer to examine the challenges it faces and how it can be improved. The Department of Child Services has widely reported problems and this study, conducted by a legislative committee, will conduct in-depth research with the intent of creating policy-based solutions. The study committee will meet in either June or July of this year, following an agency review conducted by an outside source that has yet to be named. In December 2017, former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned, saying that budget cuts will result in child deaths. Although the legislation does not believe budgeting is an issue, it will be included in the upcoming study.
Between January 2016 and August 2017, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services investigated 647 allegations of child abuse or neglect involving 460 public and private schools. These cases encompassed abuse or neglect during school hours, at school-sponsored events, or involving any school employees. The schools involved are in 74 out of Tennessee’s 95 counties. The sheer amount of abuse being reported reveals a deeply rooted problem. Furthermore, state education officials did not know about the frequency of child welfare investigations, showing a lack of support for students who have been abused.
It should be noted that these numbers reflect only the cases that were reported to DCS; school officials are required by law to report all abuse claims, but court records indicate that this is not always the case. A 2017 case study by the Department of Justice found that only 5% of sexual misconduct by school employees and known to school officials were reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel. It is critical to the health and safety of all children that schools are equipped with the resources to correctly report abuse and the services to support those who have been abused.
Peoria, Illinois, will soon be opening a “wrap-around” community center in one of the city’s most economically challenged neighborhoods, offering a “one-stop buffet of community services” to anyone and everyone. This center will include legal services, a day program for children suspended from school, counseling and parent classes, a juvenile probation officer, and a space for supervised family visits. The inspiration for this inclusive space was to “educate the whole child”—that is, acknowledging that housing, health, education, safety, and happiness are interconnected and need to be addressed equally. This wrap-around center will also serve as a critical space for comprehensive counseling to those who have experienced trauma or violence. There will also be mobile services to provide support and resources to those unable to come into the center. This center’s policies will reflect the growing body of research on the relationships between a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual life with childhood trauma and poverty.
Eight-hundred and fifty out of the 9,000-plus children in the Massachusetts foster care system are not connected to potentially adoptive families. Although this may seem like a small percentage, on the whole, the national number of children in foster care is growing while the number of adoptive households remains static. May is National Foster Care Month, and Wilmington’s Town Crier has used this opportunity to educate and inspire others to foster and adopt. If you are interested in adopting or want to learn more, your first point of contact is the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE), a hub of information whose mission is to connect children and teens in the foster system with families. MARE works to dispel harmful misunderstandings about adoption, connects families to agencies for a home study, and takes the lead in finding safe homes for waiting children. Many want to adopt infants or toddlers, but there is a far greater need for older children, teens, and sibling groups. Adopting an older child is a little different because those over the age of 12 have to give their consent to being adopted. This is much more of a dialogue between child and prospective parent where both parties get to decide to create a family together.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.