New Jersey Meeting Essential First Milestones in Child Welfare Reform

A court-ordered monitor, put in place under a 2006 federal court settlement between New Jersey and national watchdog group Children’s Rights, has issued its first report on the state’s child welfare system. The monitoring report credits New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), Governor Corzine’s newly created cabinet-level agency that oversees approximately 60,000 abused and neglected children in the state, with making key infrastructure improvements, including lowering workers’ caseloads, improving training programs for caseworkers and supervisors and finalizing adoptions more quickly. The report, which covers the second half of 2006, is the first in the case under the Corzine administration.

“Even the most broken child welfare systems, like New Jersey’s, can be fixed with good management, sufficient resources and commitment to change. The state of New Jersey finally has all three, which means things are changing for the better for New Jersey’s abused and neglected children,” said Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children’s Rights.

The monitoring report credits DCF with developing a new and improved practice model for children’s cases. It also cites the hiring and training of hundreds of additional caseworkers to administer critical services to children. Workers’ caseloads, which once dangerously exceeded the national standard, are decreasing and hitting the targets set in the settlement agreement, and DCF has exceeded the required targets for getting children adopted when they cannot return home.

“Governor Corzine’s willingness to make child safety and wellbeing a state priority combined with the pressure of the settlement agreement has finally brought competent management and rigorous oversight to an agency that has been dysfunctional for decades,” Lambiase said.

Children’s Rights filed its class action lawsuit against New Jersey to reform its failing child welfare system in 1999. The state fought the lawsuit for years and in 2005, after New Jersey failed to implement reforms required by the first court-enforceable settlement agreement, Children’s Rights filed a motion for contempt, requesting that then Governor-elect Corzine be appointed receiver of the agency.

During the first month of his term, Governor Corzine created the stand-alone Department of Children and Families and appointed former state child advocate Kevin Ryan as its first commissioner. Immediately after the creation of the new Department, Children’s Rights and New Jersey entered a new settlement agreement, which prioritized reduction in caseloads, as well as improved training, services to children, adoption and child safety. Today’s report highlights goals met in the first six months of the reform efforts under Governor Corzine.

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