Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Testimony agrees that child welfare system needs reform

Note from blog author:
This article shows that CPS is mostly about removal and money. It is obvious from our experience with CPS that they are not truly worried about the best interest of the child and they do not support families. CPS does it's best to rip families apart. Why? The almighty buck!!

By: MAUNETTE LOEKS, Staff Reporter
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 10:08 PM CDT

The child welfare system needs fixed.

That was the overwhelming message during testimony Tuesday at a hearing as a legislative committee examines the Department of Health and Human Services.

From a Department of Health and Human Services standpoint, few issues were identified as problems within the department itself in local operations.

Nathan Busch, western service area administrator, highlighted the successes of the Department of Health and Human Services in the western service area, which includes the 11 counties of the Panhandle. Since Busch was appointed as western service administrator in October 2007, he said, he believes the area has seen improvements.

Over a four-year-period, the number of children identified as state wards has decreased by 245 children, he said. Busch said the western service area serves 605 state wards, with 73 percent of those children placed out of their home. Seventy-three percent of those children are placed out of their home. Of those children, 41 percent are placed with a relative or someone known to the area. The service area also provides services to 172 children outside the formal court via a non-court involved process.

“Though children aren’t a commodity to be counted, I believe this means children are achieving permanency in an expedient matter,” Busch said.

He said the western service area has also improved in meeting federal benchmarks put into place to measure outcomes to assure protection and safety of children in the child welfare or juvenile services system. In October 2007, he said, the western service area had been meeting only one of the six federal outcomes. However, the western service area is now meeting three of the six guidelines, with strengths in absence of maltreatment in foster care, timeliness of adoption and permanency for children in foster care. He said areas needing improvement include absence of maltreatment recurrence, timeliness and permanency of reunification and placement stability.

The western service agency has put into place efforts to try to improve in those areas, including the formation of a permanency planning committee.

“The challenge is to take an area where good things are happening and make an area where great things are happening,” he said.

However, for all the successes touted by the Health and Human Services, there were also issues presented during testimony. Just some of the issues touched on were:

-- In citing challenges faced by the western service area, Busch cited that there are not enough resources to provide services to children close to their home communities.

As of October 2009, he said, the western service area had 317 foster homes, which has grown slightly to 348 foster homes. Busch said there is a gap in the number of foster homes willing or able to provide for children with severe behaviors, such as mental health issues, infants or teenagers.

Over the last two years, the number of group homes in the district have decreased. Non-payment of services by the Boys and Girls Home had been cited as a problem by some of the providers, though Busch simply said that the reduction “is the result of terminations of contract or (the providers) choosing not to renew contracts.”

The western service area has only one youth shelter within its district, with 12 beds in Scottsbluff.

Some of the reduction in providers is a direct result of strained relations after the Boys and Girls Home had been contracted to provide services. Non-payment of services, a reduction in payment or non-referral of services to specific providers resulted in a loss of providers within the district. One provider said that the Boys and Girls Home situation has presented a distrust between providers and DHHS.

Foster families have also seen a decrease in payment and services, including the loss of respite and clothing payments for children. Foster parents and providers have said they have had to fight for services that were needed for children. In some cases, parents or providers give up. In other cases, they continue lobbying for the services or children have had to be placed into emergency protective custody situations for lengthy periods of times.

-- With a lack of services, children are being placed out of state. In one instance, cited by Busch, a child has been placed in Ohio because he said adequate services were unable to be obtained. Judge James Worden, who testified regarding observations seen in the juvenile justice system, said he has had to have at least three children placed outside of state because placement for the children had not been found within a 60-90 day time frame. He said he knew that placement for two children, placed in Colorado, and is in excess of $1,200 a month. Services could be provided within communities, if funded, he said.

Both Busch and Worden, as well as other people testifying throughout the hearing, said that reunification with parents is made more difficult when children have to be placed in other areas of the state or out-of-state. Access to familiar services, schools and visitation with parents becomes problematic.

-- Testimony cited needs for improvement in transparency and communication. Busch testified that local officials were notified by e-mail, at 5 p.m., on a Friday, that the Boys and Girls Home would be discontinuing services and had to rush to make placements. Other agencies cited that parents, workers and other officials partnering with DHHS initially didn’t have questions answered about the Boys and Girls Home coming into the community. This also resulted in questions and then problems. Problems have continued with other companies that functions have been outsourced since the Boys and Girls Home ended its contract.

While DHHS represents itself as transparent – “It does not benefit the children, the families, to play hide the ball” — families with cases involved in the system, foster families and other cooperating agencies named a need to improve transparency most often when commenting on improvements that needed to be made within the system.

-- Though the DHHS is tasked by law with focusing on reunification, some of the people testifying stated that they believed that the system focuses on foster services and adoption. Often, comments were made that the DHHS had failed to focus on children and families in providing services. Suggestions were made to help families by establishing early intervention programs, such as parenting classes, and continuing to provide support to families after children have been re-united with parents or adopted.

-- Current policies and procedures do not allow for flexibility within the system. Repeatedly, testifiers cited a difference in being able to provide services in rural areas. Some regulations do not allow multiple providers. Some regulations do not allow for flexible options, such as a proposal by Worden to have day treatment or reporting centers where children could receive services during the day, but return to home in the evenings. Routinely, the need to allow innovative programs was identified as a need of child welfare reform services.

-- Some problems were identified with the people working within the system. In three incidents cited during the hearing, prosecutors made decisions to remove children and at least one person cited that it was felt that the removal of children had been done as punishment to a parent for not testifying in a case. All three individuals testified that they believed more than one individual should be responsible for determining if a child is removed from a home to avoid conflicts.

One of those individuals testified about being involved in a case in Keith County, called the “collaboration” between agencies “collusion,” saying that officials within different agencies conspired to create falsehoods to remove children from home and keep them from homes. Two of those individuals testified that caseworkers had committed perjury in court hearings and that they had evidence from law enforcement and school officials proving such.

Cases where guardian ad litems or caseworkers had little knowledge of cases, having not met with children or families, were noted. Visitation issues were cited by Worden, CASA workers and families with cases in the court system were cited as problems because providers were not showing up or were canceling pre-scheduled appointments. Meetings designed to discuss and examine cases also had similar complaints, with case workers or others canceling appointments and not notifying parents or other persons working on the cases in a timely fashion.

-- Lack of training and low wages.

Everyone from foster parents to persons within agencies that partner with DHHS testified that training for caseworkers to foster parents is needed. People also testified that low wages to people working with children, such as visitation aids, were low and resulted in unqualified individuals supervising children and cases.

Caseworkers were also cited as being overworked, with too few caseworkers and too many cases assigned to workers.

Support services for families, and for foster children and children returned to homes, were also cited as needs.

-- More oversight, both fiscal and in operations. Waste and redundancy within the system where identified throughout the hearing. One testifier noted that she and her daughter had received 12 letters regarding a reduction in services. Other examples of waste and redundancy were also cited.

Testimony during Tuesday’s hearings came during open and closed sessions.

“We came out here to get your stories and what you would like to convey,” Sen. Kathy Campbell told the crowd attending the hearing. She regularly encouraged people testifying or attending the hearings to contact local representative Sen. John Harms with follow up testimony or information or to contact members of the committees overseeing the legislative study process


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