Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 4.4 Child Welfare Issues in New Jersey

01/08/2001

To provide further understanding of the context in which the study was conducted, the following gives a brief overview of issues in child welfare in New Jersey. Child welfare services in New Jersey are administered centrally by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), a branch of the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Organization of Child Welfare Services in New Jersey. The state is divided into four service regions: Northern: Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic, Bergen and Hudson Counties, Metro: Essex, Union and Middlesex Counties; Central: Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties; and Southern Atlantic: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May. Counties have one or more district offices.

Reports of child abuse can be made to either the local DYFS district offices or to a centralized Office of Child Abuse Control (OCAC), which handles all calls during evenings, weekends, and holidays. OCAC transfers all calls during regular business hours to the appropriate district offices. OCAC refers calls requiring an immediate response to an on call special response unit (SPRU) worker when the district offices are closed. Non-emergency cases are forwarded to the district offices for response. Emergency placement cases investigated by OCAC are transferred to the District office for follow-up. District offices have both intake and ongoing units. Some counties (e.g., Bergen) have converted to generic units, in which caseworkers perform both intake and ongoing case intervention.

The FPS Technical Support Unit (TSU) through a contract with DYFS, coordinates family preservation policy and programs on a state-wide level. The contract is supervised by the DYFS Office of Case Practice, Screening and Emergency Response, recently renamed the Program Support and Permanency Office. Because they were not DYFS staff, TSU staff reported that their authority was limited with most DYFS staff and district officials. The contractor during the entire study period was the Family Service Association of New Jersey. The TSU staff are responsible for the monitoring of all FPS providers.

Three tiered screening of child abuse/neglect reporting. DYFS utilizes a three tiered response system for inquiries for service through its hotline or individual district offices. An initial screening is conducted upon receipt of the call. Screening can result in one of three recommendations or tracks:

  • Investigation to determine if a child is abused or neglected [Child Protective Services(CPS)]
  • A request for service resulting in a child welfare services assessment to determine if DYFS can provide or refer for services [Family Problems]
  • Information or referral to another resource with no direct involvement by DYFS [Information and referral (I&R)].

In the screening process, cases with less risk will be referred to the two latter tracks: family problems or I&R. Family problems can include both child-related problems and family problems. Child-related problems include child substance abuse, medical and psychiatric issues, and pregnant or teen parent issues. Family problems include domestic violence, homelessness, lack of supervision, parenting issues, and parental substance abuse.

Family preservation referrals come from both CPS and family problem cases. A substantiated maltreatment report is not required to meet the criteria for referral.

Number of Child Welfare Reports and Indicated Cases. In New Jersey, the count of official reports of abuse and neglect to the state is very broadly defined and uses a two-tiered definition. It includes both abuse and neglect, as well as requests for family services. The latter is defined in the state data as "family problems." According to 1995 NCCAN Report, New Jersey had a rate of 32.43 children reported per 1000 children in the population.12 This was based on a duplicated count of 63,684 child-based reports in 1995, including 28,924 reports of child abuse and neglect and 34,760 reports relating to family problems. Thirty-two percent or 9,279 child-based reports of abuse or neglect were indicated, compared to a national average of 34%. Of reports substantiated, 608 or 7% of children named in reports were removed from the home during or as a result of the investigation. This is in comparison to a national average of 15% for 1994.

New Case Handling Standards. In 1996, DYFS revised its case handling standards to ensure that the risk of harm to children was given emphasis by workers during an investigation. A two-day training was provided to all case managers and supervisors. One key component of the new standards is the priority that is given to evidence about parental substance abuse. Up to this point in time, a report identifying a drug-exposed newborn was identified as a family problem case. The new state policy now requires that a report of a drug-exposed newborn to also be classified as a neglect allegation.13 The change reflects the state's heightened concern about the effects of substance abuse.

DYFS attributes an increase in reports being classified as abuse and neglect to the change in standards. In January 1996, 44% of cases were classified abuse or neglect, compared to the total that includes cases classified as family problems. In December 1996, 58% of new reports and referrals were classified as child abuse or neglect.14

Table 4-8 compares total reports and referrals and counts of family problems and abuse or neglect reports and referrals from 1995-1996. There is an increase in total reports and referrals statewide. In particular, this increase occurred in six of our seven participant counties. However, for Bergen County, the total number of reports and referrals decreased from the previous year, from 3,564 to 3,323.

Table 4-8.
Total referrals by county by reason for referral
  Family Problems Child Abuse/Neglect Total
1995 1996 1995 1996 1995 1996
Bergen 2,323 2,052 1,241 1,271 3,564 3,323
Burlington 1,234 1,234 1,348 1,634 2,582 2,868
Camden 2,550 2,294 3,996 4,418 6,516 6,712
Essex Total 5,528 4,356 3,796 5,994 9,324 10,350

--Newark City

3,636 2,680 2,332 3,911 5,968 6,591
--Other Essex localities 1,892 1,676 1,464 2,083 3,356 3,759
Monmouth 3,033 2,496 2,030 2,607 5,063 5,103
Ocean 868 671 1,829 2,318 2,697 2,989
Passaic 2,550 2,506 2,151 2,623 4,701 5,129
TOTAL 34,760 30,638 28,924 37,179 63,684 67,817

Boarder Babies. Concern about infants in the care and custody of the state remaining in hospitals beyond medical necessity has been a significant policy and political issue for many states, including New Jersey. In 1996, DYFS responded to the issue with the development of a Boarder Baby Project Team and recommendations for several initiatives that were implemented the same year. The initiatives included a statewide program for the recruitment and training of foster parents, in order to maintain a standby pool of foster homes for boarder babies. In addition, a pilot program was initiated for the recruitment of foster parents interested in adoption, but willing to care temporarily for children. This program would allow concurrent planning for children, encouraging reunification, while preparing an alternative placement, in case the child stayed in care beyond a year.

A federal class-action suit was filed against DYFS and DHS by the Association to Benefit Children on behalf of foster children who remain in hospitals beyond medical necessity. A Final Order of Settlement was entered in December 1996 with several requirements. With the receipt of a Federal Abandoned Infants Assistance Grant, several program elements were added or modified. Since Essex County accounted for 80% of the boarder baby population, a Boarder Baby Unit was established in the Metropolitan Regional Office. Case managers, on call, provided expedited care management with a goal to ensure permanency within 30-60 days of initial placement. The family preservation provider in Essex County, The Bridge, also received additional family preservation slots to provide support to birth parents upon discharge from the hospital.


(12) Child Maltreatment 1995: Report From the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

(13) Children at Risk DYFS July 1995, page 33.

(14) Excerpt of draft of DYFS 1995-1996 Child Neglect report.