New Jersey Makes Additional Progress Toward Court-Ordered Child Welfare Reform

NEW YORK, NY — Although significant challenges remain, New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) has mostly completed the first phase of a massive reform effort required under the settlement of the landmark class action brought against the state by Children’s Rights on behalf of children in New Jersey’s child welfare system, according to a report released today by the court-appointed independent monitor in the case. The suit was brought to force long-needed changes to the state’s delivery of child welfare services.

The report, which covers the first half of 2007, cites impressive progress in key areas–including increases in adoptions and in the number of new foster and adoptive parents licensed by the state, decreased caseloads and better training for DCF caseworkers, and major improvements to the department’s infrastructure. But the report also notes many ongoing problems and cautions that much difficult work lies ahead in implementing the crucial second phase of the reform plan–and translating reforms into better outcomes for children.

“The Department of Children and Families is now where it is supposed to be under Phase I of this massive, court-ordered reform effort, and Commissioner Kevin Ryan and his team deserve a great deal of credit for the work they have done,” said Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children’s Rights. “Unfortunately, too many children in New Jersey have yet to feel those improvements in their daily lives, so it is critical that DCF remain focused on the long-term goals of this settlement–and step up its efforts to implement Phase II of the reforms.”

Progress cited in the monitoring report includes:

  • Increased adoptions. The department finalized 634 adoptions as of June 30, 2007, and is on track to meet its 2007 goal of 1400.
  • Greater numbers of newly licensed foster and adoptive families. In the first half of 2007, the net gain of resource families (a total of 667) tripled compared to FY 2006.
  • Decreased caseloads and better training for DCF employees. DCF met or exceeded the requirements of the settlement agreement with respect to caseload targets, supervisor-to-caseworker ratios, and training for DCFemployees.
  • Infrastructural improvements. DCF developed a “thoughtful and ambitious” implementation plan, crucial for guiding its reform work in the coming year; launched a comprehensive automated child welfare information system statewide; directed significant resources to new programs supporting adolescents in state custody; and contracted for additional in-state capacity to treat severely troubled children who had, in the past, been sent out of state.

In spite of these accomplishments, however, the report says that New Jersey’s child welfare system still “does not consistently function well and the urgency of the reforms remains.” While the report lauds the department’s plans for improving outcomes for children, it notes many challenges to actually implementing them–including weaknesses inDCF’s leadership team and the inexperience of its workforce. In the meantime, according to the report, the state is still failing to provide timely basic services to the children in its custody, including assistance in securing state housing, in-home counseling, substance abuse treatment, family preservation services, mental health services, and family support.

Children’s Rights filed the class action known as Charlie and Nadine H. v. Corzine against New Jersey in 1999. Seven years later, after a previous settlement agreement with the state failed to yield improvements, Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Drinker Biddle & Reath, reached a new agreement with the Corzine administration, mandating top-to-bottom reform of New Jersey’s long-failing child welfare system and resulting in the creation of a separate Department of Children and Families. Today’s monitoring report is the second under the 2006 modified settlement agreement.

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