Interviews with DCF administration and key representatives of their collaborative partners indicated that the reform efforts were driven by efforts to manage scarce resources to best serve 11 rural counties. In addition, the State government wanted to encourage privatization and increase accountability for DCF operations.
One of the background issues has been the privatization of DCF functions. Opinions of the benefits and costs of this reform, as well as the viability of such a change, varied widely in discussions that were held during the site visit.
- There was a common perception that privatization would result in cost savings. In fact, DCF administration suggested that privatization would likely result in higher costs.
- There was a consensus among the District 3 DCF and collaborative representatives that a cookie-cutter approach was not beneficial to the communities and was a waste of needed resources. Rather, comprehensive needs assessments were thought to be required for every child and family who entered into the system.
- It was anticipated that the private sector would be a more effective advocate for obtaining the resources. However, the funding of private service contracts has been unstable and has resulted in inconsistent service provision. This factor has been most apparent in rural communities.
- Most stakeholders agreed that direct service provision was the most appropriate function for private providers. Many stakeholders also believed that case monitoring and case management could be appropriately provided by private contractors. There was disagreement, however, regarding the ability of the private sector to properly conduct investigations. Some stakeholders believed that law enforcement was best suited for conducting investigations, as these agencies had existing mechanisms for such activities. The use of law enforcement would enable DCF staff to function in supportive roles as social workers, as opposed to acting as legal enforcers. Under this model, the local DCF would function as contract managers and monitors. Retaining this mechanism for local contract management was considered vital, as an attempt to manage local operations at the State level could be fraught with logistical difficulties.
A second force that encouraged many of these reform initiatives was the desire of the State government to increase accountability within DCF operations for providing the appropriate protections to maltreated children and children at risk of maltreatment.
Other than the push for privatization, the Kayla legislation was the single most often mentioned reform effort. The Kayla McKean Child Protection Act was enacted during May 1999 and was named for Kayla McKean, a 6-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her father following several referrals to DCF. The purpose of the legislation was to strengthen child safety standards and require State agencies to coordinate their efforts to prevent child abuse. The statewide impact of the law was an increase in the number of calls to the hotline every year. In fact, District 3 experienced a 62 percent increase in referrals since the legislation was passed. Specific requirements of the legislation included those listed below.
- DCF must investigate all allegations referred by judges, teachers, or other school officials. It also defines judges as mandated reporters.
- DCF must assign one caseworker to investigate all referrals that involve a particular child. The department also must maintain a master file that contains information on all reports for a particular child, and this file must be made available to all DCF staff, judges, and community professionals who contribute to an investigation, to ensure proper communication and coordination among all involved parties.
- DCF must contact local law enforcement agencies with regard to all maltreatment referrals and work cooperatively with them to conduct investigations.
- Every investigation must include a face-to-face contact with the alleged victim, other siblings, parents, and other adults in the household.
- Any adult in the household who fails to report substantiated maltreatment that had taken place in the household will be charged with a third-degree felony.
- A local and State Death Review Committee must be established and operated under the Department of Health.
- An external entity must be charged with monitoring the existing State-operated abuse hotline for efficiency and effectiveness.
All of the stakeholders unequivocally agreed that the task of protecting children from harm is important and that the safety of children is assured when all parties within a community work together. Each stakeholder brought a unique perspective shaped by his particular area of expertise. DCF has the responsibility of balancing all concerns and arriving at a determination to ensure the safety of a referred child. In the perspective of some, the accountability-based reforms had the effect of diluting DCF’s authority, while continuing to place the risk of a failure to provide adequate protection with DCF.