Each practice change has conditions that are important to maintain a positive reform trajectory. The following practice changes were reported by DCF staff and partners.
Separation of Investigative and Protective Services Functions
Both the investigative and the protective services units would benefit from funding for additional caseworkers. The caseload is approximately three times what the CPS supervisor consider optimal to ensure that every referral receives attention and service. The agency would also function more effectively with greater availability of services, particularly in the rural areas of the district. Specific service needs include domestic violence prevention, violence intervention, substance abuse treatment, intensive crisis counseling, private therapists, parenting training, quality child care, foster care placements (particularly therapeutic foster care), and independent living.
Home Safe Net
District 3 DCF staff discovered that a thorough understanding of the computer system was acquired only through ongoing use. Rather than providing a single training session, workers should be provided the opportunity to practice, with ongoing support of the system liaison. It was further recommended that refresher training be provided to the users when newer versions of the system are introduced. Finally, system users need a means for providing feedback to improve the system interface so that it corresponds to the logical flow of case work.
DCF training staff recommended that the administration continue its support of the online training system in order to use training resources as efficiently as possible.
Community-Based Advisory Board
DCF administrators suggested that the first requirement to support the Alliance is a reasonable budget to fund their activities. A second recommendation is to provide the Alliance with oversight authority for the privatization efforts. One possibility would be to grant the Alliance the authority to review the performance of privatized agencies in conducting traditional DCF functions. It is important to recognize that the process of involving the community in caring for its members can be more beneficial to the community than the product of that involvement.
The following conditions in DCF collaborative partnerships were identified as areas for improvement.
Law enforcement officials believe that children and families in Union County would best be served with increased funding for recreational programs for pre-adolescent children and parenting programs.
Dependency Drug Court
The judicial court representative suggested that communication between agency partners must remain consistent to ensure the success of the program. In addition, while the funding for this program is recurring, it is spent quickly.
Guardian Ad Litem
The child advocates in the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program are unpaid volunteers. There has been a move toward hiring paid staff as advocates to supplement the existing volunteer staff. The GAL representative expressed some concern that a move toward paid staff advocates may be detrimental to the functioning of the GAL program. Sufficient advocates are not always available to handle all dependency cases. GAL does a thorough job of representing those children that are most in need. If the program moves toward using paid staff advocates, those advocates may likely carry heavier caseloads. This would result in more children being represented, but not necessarily receiving the in-depth advocacy that clients have previously received.
Child Protection Team
The CPT representative suggested that the program could more effectively carry out its mission with increased resources for training and education of the CPT members, CPT support staff, and cross-training with DCF child protection investigative staff. The program would also benefit by hiring team members to provide screening in specialized areas of expertise.
The Nurturing Program representative indicated that this program could improve greatly if sufficient funds were available to hire additional workers. This enhancement would eliminate the need for a waiting list for potential clients. To adequately serve the children in District 3, DCF would need to fund the program at twice the number that it currently does. Another recommendation was to resurrect the reunification program to help smooth the transition from residential placement to the child’s family. In addition, a pilot program to work with both parents while the child is in foster care was suggested.
Family Builders would also be better equipped to achieve their mission with adequate funding. Funding for their State and local contracts has been cut every year, forcing them to provide more services with fewer resources. The program has not received an increase in funding for the past
4 years. Additional funds would also help to attract and retain qualified mental health professionals. Family Builder’s inability to do this was linked to their inability to offer potential candidates competitive salary or benefits.
Meridian Behavioral Health Care
The Meridian representative indicated that the program would benefit from funds to provide good residential and day treatment for substance abuse. Increased funds could also be used to help clients locate suitable housing and provide contingency funds through Family Builders to help stabilize families in financial crisis.
Ultimately, Meridian would be best equipped to carry out their mission with flexible funding streams. Most programs operate as fee-for-service, whereas cost reimbursement facilitates greater flexibility in the provision of a wide array of services. Under this paradigm, Meridian staff would provide case management.
The Peaceful Paths program director recommended sending agency advocates with the CPIs on first response calls to ensure that cases involving domestic violence receive the necessary assessments and supports as early as possible in the investigation process. Additional funding would be used to provide transportation and on-site childcare for clients.