D.C. Still Failing to Provide Many Fundamental Services to Children in Foster Care, Says New Progress Report

WASHINGTON, D.C – The District of Columbia has made virtually no progress improving a number of critical areas within the city’s child welfare system — including its support for youth aging out of the system, development of quality case plans for families, and delivery of vital services to children in foster care — according to a new independent monitoring report on the long-running, court-ordered reform effort spurred by the national advocacy organization Children’s Rights.

Today’s report (PDF) also notes that despite the Child and Family Services Agency’s introduction of a sophisticated new child welfare information tracking system, the District still cannot accurately report on its performance for a significant number of benchmarks, such as whether health services are being delivered to children, whether Family Team Meetings are being conducted, and how training of staff and foster parents has been implemented.

“Today’s report has made it clear that the District’s vulnerable children and families suffered as CFSA and city leaders stalled in their efforts to reform this still-fragile child welfare system,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “The new administration must commit to fulfilling the promises that have been made to the District’s abused and neglected children, and we will continue to hold CFSA accountable for implementing in full these court-ordered reforms.”

While the report notes that CFSA has implemented a number of promising initiatives — including the Healthy Horizons Assessment Center designed as an on-site clinic for children in foster care — many of these new programs have yet to produce positive results for children and families. Among the 46 measures on which the report shows thatCFSA’s performance remains inadequate, or on which CFSA is unable to report:

  • CFSA must do more to adequately support youth who will age out of foster care. While the District has increased its attention to this vulnerable population, which represents nearly 30 percent of the foster care population, much more must be done to ensure that youth who will exit foster care without a permanent family are well-prepared for adulthood. Only 50 percent of youth with a plan for independent living received an adequate plan, which would include identifying lasting adult connections, accessing housing options, receiving life skills training, and receiving assistance in finding a job or getting into college.
  • Too many children are not receiving initial health screenings and full medical exams when entering foster care. Despite the establishment of the Healthy Horizons Assessment Center staffed with nurses aimed to ensure children’s medical, mental and dental health needs are being met, approximately 40 percent of children entering or re-entering foster care did not receive an initial health screening in December 2010. In that same time period, about half of children did not get a full medical evaluation within 30 days of entering District custody, and only an additional 12 percent received those exams within 60 days.
  • The District is failing to develop quality case plans and provide appropriate services to families to keep children safe and healthy. Despite the state’s improvement in its ability to actually develop case plans with families involved in the child welfare system, during 2010 a case record review revealed that only 64 percent of families had plans that properly reflected the family and child’s needs. Furthermore, 40 percent of families did not receive critical services recommended in those plans — such as mental health services, referrals to community-based organizations, and substance abuse services.

The report also outlines a number of areas where the District has made or maintained progress — including keeping caseloads at manageable levels and approving foster and adoptive homes more quickly — but the monitor warns that any further progress the District stands to make may be in jeopardy if fundamental resources are drastically cut.

The monitor further notes that even while cuts to the CFSA budget are being considered, the District is failing to draw down critical funding from the federal government, which provides matching funds for foster care systems.

Today’s report was issued by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the independent monitor appointed by the federal court to track reforms required by LaShawn A. v. Gray, the federal class action lawsuit brought by Children’s Rights on behalf of thousands of children dependent on the District’s child welfare system.

In April 2010, the District’s attempt to be released from federal court oversight was rejected, and the District and then-Mayor Adrian Fenty were held in civil contempt of court. CFSA was ordered to not only fully implement the reforms outlined by the consent decree, but also to allocate significant new funds to support youth who have aged out of foster care.

Children’s Rights originally filed the motion for contempt in July 2008, which resulted in a new plan to address serious problems at CFSA. Children’s Rights renewed that motion in January 2009 after District officials asked the judge to approve a six-month plan that had been rejected by the independent court monitor. The renewed motion charged the administration with impeding the implementation of court-mandated reforms and placing the District’s desire to escape court oversight ahead of the safety and well-being of the city’s abused and neglected children.

Children’s Rights filed the LaShawn A. case in 1989. Following a 1991 trial on the merits and a finding by the court that the District’s child welfare system violated applicable law, a court-enforceable reform plan was negotiated between Children’s Rights and defendants and approved by the court in 1993. In the years that followed, the District made only minimal progress toward achieving court-mandated reforms, prompting the court to impose the extreme remedy of a federal takeover of the system’s management in 1995.

The District regained control of the beleaguered agency in 2000, after establishing the cabinet-level Child and Family Services Agency and committed to major reform. CFSA initially made some improvements, but then began to deteriorate, and 10 years later the District remains in violation of the court-ordered reform plan.

The full text of today’s report and a complete collection of materials related to the LaShawn A. reform class action are available at www.childrensrights.org/dc.