New Reports on New Jersey Foster Care Reforms Show Continued Success, But Also Raise Troubling Alarms

State Still Struggling to Engage Youth and Families and Adequately Support Adolescents

NEWARK, NJ — While New Jersey has continued improvement in several fundamental areas of its child welfare system and made some incremental progress in the remaining areas in which it has struggled, according to a new report on the sweeping court-ordered reform effort spurred by national advocacy group Children’s Rights the state is still falling short of several required goals, most notably in its support to teens aging out of foster care and caseworkers’ ability to frequently visit, engage with and provide adequate case plans for children in foster care.

Additionally, in light of recent the death of eight-year-old Christiana Glenn and the state Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) disclosure last week there had been an uninvestigated call to the state’s child abuse hotline only nine days before she died, Children’s Rights is calling on DCF for swift action. Specifically, the state must undertake a swift, thorough examination of what missteps may have occurred in this tragic case and identify what must be done to correct problems and ensure full accountability for the system.

According to (PDF), issued by an independent monitor issued appointed by the court to track reforms required under the 2006 federal court order, DCF has continued its positive performance in providing adequate medical and dental care to children in foster care. The agency is moving children more quickly into safe and stable homes with their parents or adoptive families. And DCF continues its success recruiting and retaining new foster and adoptive families.

However, while there has been some improvement with respect to engaging vulnerable families as part of daily case practice since the last monitoring period, the state is still far from where it should be. DCF is still not regularly holding family team meetings, which are designed to bring together the people who are children’s natural supports to ensure they get the care and services they need. Parents are still not given enough opportunities to visit with their children in foster care, and caseworkers need to see the children on their caseloads more frequently.

Additionally, because the state isn’t doing enough to support older youth preparing to leave foster care without a permanent family, far too many of these young people are facing grave outcomes — including unemployment, a lack of education, and trouble with law enforcement — according to a supplemental case record review included in today’s report.

“In spite of the shocking news about Christiana Glenn, it is evident that New Jersey’s foster care system has transformed from the system it was just a few years ago,” said Susan Lambiase, associate director for Children’s Rights. “But the state must be not only laser-focused on the challenges ahead, but also transparent and accountable, because so many vulnerable kids and teens are depending on its success.”

The monitor notes many key areas in which DCF continues to meet or exceed the requirements of the federal court order mandating reform:

As noted above, while there has been no significant backsliding in the state’s efforts, the report calls attention to several areas to which DCF must continue to devote attention in order to meet requirements of the federal court order:

In a supplemental case record review, the monitor examined the cases of more than 200 youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who had been in foster care for at least 60 days and exited state custody in the first six months of 2010. This review found the state’s efforts to serve and support adolescents after they turn 18 years old to be severely lacking in many areas:

“The stakes are extremely high for these young people, and it is imperative DCF immediately begin to implement the monitor’s recommendations and identify why these youth aren’t faring better five years into this reform effort,” said Lambiase. “These are disturbing consequences, and it must be a priority.”

Issued by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, today’s monitoring report is ninth since the 2006 of a class action brought against New Jersey by Children’s Rights and co-counsel on behalf of the more than 7,000 children in custody of the state child welfare system. It evaluates the progress made by the state over the six-month period between July 1 and December 31, 2010.

Children’s Rights filed the child welfare reform class action known as Charlie and Nadine H. v. Christie in 1999, with co-counsel Drinker Biddle & Reath. In 2006, after a previous settlement agreement failed to yield positive results, Children’s Rights and reached a new agreement with state officials, mandating sweeping reforms and resulting inDCF’s creation.

The complete monitoring report and more information on Children’s Rights’ campaign to reform New Jersey’s child welfare system can be found at