Report: D.C. Child Welfare Reform Builds Momentum Under New Leadership

Solid improvement needed as investigative workers exceed caseload limits & data problems linger

(Washington, DC) — A report released today says new leadership at the Children and Family Services Agency (CFSA) is moving the District of Columbia’s long-struggling child welfare agency toward the path of reform. The progress report, covering the first half of 2012, is the first to monitor performance under Brenda Donald, the new director of CFSA.

According to the report — an update on court-ordered reforms spurred by the national advocacy organization Children’s Rights — the period was marked by “rapid change,” as Donald implemented new strategies within months of taking office. For example, in an effort to intensively focus on better meeting the needs of older foster youth, she restructured the department charged with providing support to foster kids aging out of the system. The Office of Youth Empowerment is now required to report directly to her and she must personally approve each foster kid’s long-term case plan.

“It is encouraging that the new director is taking concrete steps to address the needs of older foster youth – a groupCFSA has ignored for far too long,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “The District must apply this renewed focus to other areas where performance has suffered during a period of unstable leadership at the agency.”

CFSA showed new signs of improvement as it met compliance on eleven performance standards for the first time, including:

  • Placing kids in the most appropriate, family-like setting, as opposed to large shelters.
  • Keeping all children under the age of six out of group-care facilities, unless the child has exceptional needs.
  • Caseworkers, supervisors and administrators are fulfilling the required annual in-service training hours — a critical tool to keep CFSA staff informed of policy changes and best practices.

However, the District is still a long way from achieving its goals, as it continues to fall short in critical areas. Most notably:

  • Performance on caseload standards dropped significantly during the period. The agency hit a low in February when only 56 percent of investigative workers stayed within case limits — far below the 90 percent benchmark.
  • Achieving timely adoptions for foster children declined to 71 percent. The reform plan requires that 80 percent of children with a planned goal of adoption be placed in an approved adoptive home within a nine month timeframe.

While progress has been made, data management continues to be a problem at the child welfare agency, with ongoing concern about CFSA’s ability to produce accurate and timely data.

“While not all problems have been identified or solved, the new leadership at CFSA appears to have solid plans to address the existing problems,” said Lowry. “The test will be whether these plans can be achieved.”

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 1989 federal class action lawsuit brought by Children’s Rights on behalf of thousands of children in the D.C. child welfare system. A 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 , prompting the court to impose a federal takeover of the system’s management in 1995.
The District regained control of the beleaguered agency in 2000 and initially made some improvements, but it remains in violation of the court-ordered reform plan.

To review full text of today’s report and to learn more about the LaShawn A. reform class action, please visit the District of Columbia Class Action Page.