August 22, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
We can now add New Hampshire to the list of states whose child welfare agencies are performing abysmally (Union Leader, 8/17/18). There it’s so bad that the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families failed in all seven categories considered by the federal Department of Health and Human Services as necessary to a functional child protective agency. That’s right, every single one.
“None of the seven outcomes was found to be in substantial conformity,” according to the report, released on Friday.
Among the report’s findings:
• The quality of risk and safety assessments was concerning in both in-home and foster-care cases. The agency needs to ensure that children are seen consistently, including observing children in their home environments.
• DCYF needs to meet with all children in a family and with all of the children’s caregivers, especially fathers.
• Too many safety plans rely on informal agreements with parents on what they would do to keep children safe. Monitoring of safety plans also was found to be insufficient and was not adapted to new safety threats.
• High staff caseloads affect quality of work and the staff’s ability to meet frequently with children, parents, and foster parents, conduct risk assessments, safety planning and monitoring, complete comprehensive needs assessments and provide services.
Of course, each of the first three is a function of the fourth. Once again, a state is paying caseworkers too little, overburdening them with cases and expecting them to do an acceptable job of protecting at-risk children. How high are those caseloads?
[DCYF Director Joe] Ribsam advised lawmakers earlier this year that the state should aim for the national standard of 12 cases per social worker, but when lawmakers saw the $5 million price tag, they declined.
Current caseloads stand at about 40 per social worker, below the high-water mark of nearly 95 but still well above national standards.
Yes, current caseloads average 3.3 times industry standards, i.e. an impossible demand on caseworkers. The fact that they once averaged a mind-boggling 95 cases doesn’t obscure the fact that caseworkers can’t handle that load. Unsurprisingly, they don’t, leading to the disgraceful performance assessment by DHHS.
More amazing is the fact that the state’s known for years how bad the situation was but did little to address it.
Newly appointed director of DCYF, Joe Ribsam, predicted to the Union Leader in May that the federal review, the first since 2010, would not be favorable.
“When you compare the system in the 2010 review to 2018, you are going to see significant declines across all categories,” he said at the time.
“You can attribute some of that to the opioid challenges, but also to the state of the system around staffing, case loads and the lack of providers to help support families and keep kids safe at home in the first place.”
So what’s it doing now?
“The first and most important step we’ve taken together with the governor and the Legislature is to increase staffing at DCYF. But, there is more work to be done.”
DCYF will be submitting an improvement plan this fall to address caseloads and improve outcomes for children and families involved with the child welfare system, Meyers said.
Priorities include new services for children and families, more engagement with families, better recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive parents and more specialized training for both DCYF staff and providers.
That’s nice. I’m eager to see how they accomplish all that without money.
The Legislature in the past two years has approved $1.1 million for foster care adoption programs, rate increases and services and $1.5 million for voluntary services for families at risk, while increasing funding for social workers.
New Hampshire’s a small state, but that kind of funding will do little even there to ameliorate the problems of a dysfunctional agency. As of 2013, costs to run the DCYF ran to about $63 million per year. The addition of $2.6 million to the budget of an agency that is nowhere near to meeting the needs of kids simply won’t do the job. The state legislature knows it, the agency knows it and now the federal government knows it.
So, along with all those plus Granite State residents, we’ll wait for the other shoe to drop. That’ll come in the form of a series of horrible tragedies followed by office-holders rushing to microphones to impress voters with their deep concern for kids and their pro-active stance toward solving the problem.
Remember, you read it here first. But truly, I’m no prognosticator. I’ve just caught this act too many times in too many states to believe for an instant that the same thing in New Hampshire will go any other way.