Human Services Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-1199

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES' REGIONAL STRUCTURE, DIFFERENTIAL RESPONSE, AND POVERTY EXEMPTION.

Vote Date:

3/22/2011

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/22/2011

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Human Services Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

At the request of the Department of Children and Families, this bill authorizes changing the DCF structure from an area structure to a regional structure, providing for a differential response to the department and providing a poverty exception to the definition of “neglected.” Substitute language incorporates further changes requested by the DCF commissioner.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

JOETTE KATZ, Commissioner, Department of Children and Families, testified: “The Department of Children and Families strongly supports H.B. 1199.

DCF Organizational Structure

“Sections 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the bill change statutory references to reflect an organizational shift from area offices to five service delivery regions.

“The organizational restructuring already has begun, including the most dramatic change involving supervision of the area offices. At the DCF Central Office, existing bureaus will be realigned over the coming months, including the elimination of the Bureau Chief job classification. Whereas previously area offices were lodged within the Bureau of Child Welfare, with multiple levels of supervision above them, the Service Area Directors now report directly to the Commissioner.

“Once this new leadership structure is in place, the current Service Area Director classification will be eliminated, and individuals will be supported to relocate within or outside the Department. Because empowering families requires we empower our staff, we are strengthening the training academy to become the DCF Academy for Workforce Knowledge and Development. The enhanced Academy will expand learning opportunities for both staff and our private agency partners.

“On the program side, we shortly will begin operating with three teams rather than bureaus. The Clinical and Community Support/Consultation Team will integrate subject matter expertise across health, nursing, psychiatric consultation, mental health, education, child welfare and substance abuse to support the new comprehensive system of regional services for children and families. The Child and Systems Development, and Prevention Team will bring together best practices related to child and youth development in a culturally and gender-specific manner. It also will provide (1) leadership in juvenile justice systems work, (2) foster and adoptive support, (3) new partnerships with local education agencies, and (4) expanded investments in prevention.

“The DCF facilities -- the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, Riverview Hospital and the Connecticut Children's Place -- will be supervised as part of the Residential and Institutional Facilities Team. This team also will be responsible for planning related to secure girls' services and for performance contracting with our private residential treatment partners. A time-limited but detailed analysis is now underway concerning all out-of-state placements along with a review of the mission and structure of both Riverview Hospital and the Connecticut Children's Place.

“Managing this change, which will be phased in over the next six months, will be complex.

“A tremendous amount of good work is being done at the Department, but now is a golden opportunity to get even better at what we do. Commissioner Katz is confident that with these changes and realignments, the Department will become evermore effective in strengthening families and enhancing child well-being.

Regional Directors

“Section 2 of the bill establishes up to six unclassified Regional Director positions for the Department, which is a structure similar to that provided in section 17b-6 of the General Statutes for the Regional Administrators for the Department of Social Services. It is also similar to a structure that existed in the Department of Children in Youth Services from 1987 to 1993, at which time six Regional Directors and up to twelve Assistant Regional Directors, all in the unclassified service were permitted by statute.

“As noted above, Commissioner Katz intends to utilize a five region structure, but the statute refers to six to reflect the statutory authority provided in section 16a-4a to the Office of Policy and Management to establish 'not more than six uniform regional service delivery areas.'

“These positions will allow the Department to move toward a comprehensive service delivery system at the community level with higher levels of regional responsibility, authority and accountability. They will report directly to the Commissioner. Once these positions are established, five high-level Regional Directors will be selected and tasked with implementing a more comprehensive system of services at the regional and community level. We expect these individuals will come from both inside and outside the Department, operate as a team, and be in place during September 2011.

“This section also provides for the appointment of two additional positions in the unclassified service, who would oversee the new Clinical and Community Support/Consultation Team and the new Residential and Institutional Facilities Team. Interim leadership has been designated for all three teams. Quality assurance and administrative case review staff, who used to report to the Bureau of Child Welfare, will now report to Central Office in order to improve standardization, efficiency and accountability for service delivery at the regional level.

Differential Response

“Section 7 of the bill allows DCF to establish a Differential Response System (DRS). DRS is an approach that allows child protection agencies to differentiate their response to accepted reports of child abuse and neglect based on such factors as the type and severity of the alleged maltreatment, the number of previous reports, and the motivation and cooperation of the parent in addressing safety concerns. Integral to this approach is its multiple focuses on child safety, family engagement and community response. The process begins with a thorough exploration of a family's strengths and needs. Low risk cases where there is no current safety concern for the children will be responded to via a family assessment response. Higher risk cases and those with allegations involving child safety will continue to be responded to via a traditional investigations response. At any time, based on the social worker's ongoing assessments, an assessment case can be returned to the Child Protective Services investigative track, if appropriate.

“The Department, in conjunction with Casey Family Services, has been planning for implementation of DRS for over two years. We have examined the community readiness for a Differential Response System in each of DCF's five regions and we plan to implement DRS in all five regions beginning in late 2011. The implementation of DRS will build on the implementation of the DCF Practice Model, which is already underway in regions 1 and 3 and will begin implementation in regions 2, 4 and 5 late this year.

“The primary goal of DRS is to serve low risk families who come to the attention of DCF in a strengths-based, solution focused, and culturally competent manner. The process must be family-driven aimed at assessing needs, without compromising child safety. Families eligible for the Differential Response System will be those who meet statutory requirements of abuse and neglect. Differential Response System services will be provided at the family's discretion following a determination that all children in the home are safe.

“Differential Response System services will best be delivered through a collaborative partnership including families, DCF, and community providers. Although initially guiding the safety and needs assessment processes, the Department's role diminishes as linkage to services and community supports aimed at addressing identified needs occurs. Cases will be handed over to the community providers as soon as possible. DCF will close cases as soon as families are deemed safe and receiving all needed services.

“The Practice Model complements the strategies employed under DRS. The Practice Model, which is now in final development, will establish in daily practice for all cases handled by the Department the following principles: respect and working with families as partners; focus on the social worker as a "helping" relationship to the family; engagement of parents, extended family, kin and natural supports; and the leadership of families in the development of case plans. Other jurisdictions that have implemented these principles and practices have experienced lower rates of removals, higher use of kin/relatives as placement resources and lower rates of repeat reports for families.

“Under the bill, cases the commissioner refers for community services may be transferred back to DCF for a traditional investigation if safety concerns become evident. Conversely, where a full investigation has begun, DCF can refer cases to DRS whenever the Department determines the child should be classified as lower-risk.

“The bill also permits DCF to adopt regulations to establish a method for monitoring the child and family's progress while in the differential response system. The regulations may also set standards for reopening referred cases.

“DCF must disclose to providers accepting referred cases all relevant information in its possession concerning the child and family, including prior child protection activity. A provider can use this otherwise-confidential information in: (1) assessing, diagnosing, and treating the family's unique needs, and (2) preventing future reports. The provider must disclose to DCF all relevant and otherwise-confidential information gathered during its assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. DCF may use the information only to monitor and assure the child's continued safety and well-being.

“This bill is written as permissive language to allow implementation of the differential response program to occur within available appropriations. The Department is working on identifying internal and external resources to allow implementation of DRS to occur later this year. Ultimately, savings in direct services and/or state personnel may result should differential response programming and the use of the Practice Model successfully mitigate child abuse and neglect and divert families from the child welfare system.

Poverty Exemption

“Section 8 of the bill specifically exempts poverty from the definition of "neglected" in section 46b-120 of the General Statutes. This is consistent with the goals of the differential response system and it follows the lead of other states including Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“This language will provide additional legal rights for impoverished parents who might otherwise face child neglect allegations, court involvement, and the potential removal of their child and placement in foster care. The Department believes that this will allow for more effective use of our child protection staff and resources.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

CARYL HALLBERG, Executive Director, Covenant to Care for Children, testified: “Covenant to Care for Children . . . supports any alteration to the definition of 'neglect' that removes the stigma of poverty and allows for the ongoing efforts of CCC and our partner social workers to provide for the basic and special needs of our children.

“In just two of our smaller programs, between July 1, 2010, and December 31, 2010, we served approximately 2000 children, providing beds to children who had no bed to sleep in, other furniture, clothing and much more. The items that CCC provides are basic: diapers, formula, beds, cribs, clothing, linen, etc.

“Every child we serve comes to us through a request made by his/her social worker, more often than not a DCF social worker.

“Generally, what we saw with the TANF eligibility forms was the following:

All families receiving aid were citizens of the U.S. – 100%

● Most families were comprised of at least  two children and a caregiver

● Disposable income for these families ranges $12-15K per year, but most were below $12K. Income was being used for rent and utilities, even when subsidies were available. There was little, if any, money left over to provide for the basic needs of the children in the household.

● Many families were receiving other forms of assistance: SNAP/WIC/SAGA/TFA

● One thing that seems to surface rather regularly was the need for financial assistance for the adults in the household to get picture ID cards. This is now necessary for employment, to apply for public assistance, and to receive health care.

“(In once case study) a DCF investigator had a report of neglect in a family of four children ranging from infant to 7 years of age. When she visited the family, she found the apartment was tidy and the children clean, but possessing only one outfit each. The children slept on the floor wrapped in their clothes for warmth. The baby was kept in a closet at night to protect him from rats. There wasn't a stick of furniture in the apartment. “The children attended school; the single mom worked three part-time jobs at minimum wage and used every penny for rent and food. There simply was nothing left over. The investigator determined that there was no issue of neglect in this household, only poverty. She contacted CCC and requested school uniforms, clothing, baby goods, beds for the three older children and a crib for the baby. We provided two bunk bed sets, along with bed linens, towels, stuffed animals, a few age appropriate books, extra clothes, a table and chairs, couch and dressers.

“The investigator was able to close the case with a positive report, the children had their basic needs met, and the mother knew that somewhere out there were caring people who understood that she was doing the very best she could and who supported her effort to be a good mom.”

CONNECTICUT VOICES FOR CHILDREN submitted testimony: “We . . . strongly support S.B. 1199, which includes two components that we believe are particularly beneficial to Connecticut's most vulnerable children and families.

“First, SB 1199 authorizes a differential response system at the Department of Children and Families, which would allow flexibility in responding to reports of child abuse and neglect.

“Differential response is a child protective services practice that allows for more than one method of initial response to a reported case. Currently when a report of abuse or neglect comes to the attention of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the main objective of the social worker is to gather evidence to determine whether a child is at risk of maltreatment or has experienced abuse or neglect. This process often leads families to view DCF as an adversary, and many times family are resistant to working with the agency.

“Differential response is sometimes referred to as an “alternative track” or a “multiple tracks” approach, as, depending on the details of an initial screening, it allows for a reported case to be diverted to a more service-based response. This bill would allow DCF, after conducting a safety assessment, to refer low-risk reports of abuse or neglect to appropriate community providers for further assessments and services.

“A total of 16 states are utilizing a statewide system of differential response; 12 of these states have the system codified in statute. There are an additional seven states that have a differential response system on the regional or county level. Evaluations of these programs have shown that with a DRS, assessments have improved, service delivery has been enhanced, and that families are more likely to actively engage with services.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway has published an issue brief on using Differential Response System in a state's child welfare department, which includes guiding principles for successful execution of the system. While Connecticut Voices for Children fully supports the implementation of DRS, we know that it is critical for the proper supports to be in place in order for this new system to be effectively utilized.

“We ask that when your committee works with the Department in putting a differential response system into place you take the following guiding principles into consideration:

1. Utilize assessments that identify true need: The idea of differential response is that families receive a greater benefit when a more thorough look into strengths and needs is performed. It is essential that the program the Department puts into place truly evaluates a family and a service plan is developed that is responsive to what the family requires.

2. Ensure service availability: The success of a differential response model is dependent on the availability of services to meet the identified needs of the families in their community. The Department has identified this as a key to the program's success and has laid out a plan to engage community programming. The Department states in their “Community Readiness and Service Array” plan that they are intent on working with states that have already successfully implemented a DRS to come up with ideas for service models. They have also indicated in this plan their intent to provide RFQs to the community service providers. We encourage the Committee to continue to work with the Department through this critical part of implementation.

3. Staff training: Evaluations of both North Carolina's and Virginia's DRS program included recommendations that program expansion be linked with additional training for frontline staff and administrators. Research has shown that child protection staff in states with DRS are extremely supportive of the differential response method; however training is critical as caseworkers are being asked to engage with families in a new way. The Department of Children and Families has completed training models in conjunction with the implementation of DRS and is working with their training academy to include family engagement training. We hope that the committee will continue to support these efforts.

4. Monitor caseworker workload: A critical finding in the evaluation of Minnesota's Pilot DRS system was that burdensome caseloads prevented children and families from receiving the full benefit of the program. Workers in that evaluation reported dissatisfaction with the number of cases assigned. The requirements of a comprehensive family assessment, which includes building relationships in the community and linking families to services, can be substantially more time consuming than the traditional child protective services model. It is essential for system success to frequently evaluate and adjust workloads. The Department has stated in its plan that it intends to implement DRS within their existing workforce. We hope the Committee will continue to work with the Department to ensure it has access to the staffing and resources it needs to effectively execute the system.

5. Track outcomes: We are extremely encouraged that the Department has already identified a series of evaluations and outcomes that it is planning to track as DRS is implemented. We hope that the legislature will work with the Department to ensure that this data is collected and shared. We would recommend including a reporting requirement in the DRS legislation in order to provide the General Assembly an opportunity to monitor the Department's progress on this program.

6. Address child safety risk: The underlying concern in any DRS program is the safety of the children involved. In evaluations conducted of DRS, the research has shown that children can be just as safe, or safer, without an investigation intervention. A multi-state study of DRS conducted in 2005 found the likelihood of a subsequent report to child protective services after the original assignment to a track was comparable, regardless of the track originally chosen. In an experimental study conducted in Minnesota, families that were randomly assigned to the “assessment” track were far less likely to be re-reported than families who were randomly assigned to receive an investigation. The Department has acknowledged this concern in many of its communication pieces and we hope that you will work with them to continue to address the issue of child safety as DRS is rolled out.

“Second, SB1199 clarifies the definition of neglect by inserting a poverty exemption, consistent with best practices in child welfare and the actions taken by many other states.

“Child poverty is a pressing problem in Connecticut. In 2009, over 12% of Connecticut children under 18 were below the Federal Poverty Level. While this rate is below the national average of 20%, it means that almost 100,000 Connecticut children lived in poverty. Additionally, child poverty rates are much higher in Connecticut's urban centers. The 2009 child poverty rate was 25.8% in Bridgeport, 35.7% in New Britain, 31.2% in New Haven, 33.8% in Waterbury, and 39.2% in Hartford. Hartford has historically had one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. In 2000, Hartford had the second highest child poverty rate of all U.S. cities with populations larger than 100,000.

“There are also wide racial and ethnic disparities in child poverty rates in Connecticut. The poverty rate for black children in 2009 was almost three times the rate for white, non-Hispanic children (20.2% vs. 7.0%). The poverty rate for children of Hispanic-origin was 18.8%. These disparities in poverty rates may partially explain why children of color are disproportionately likely to become involved with the child welfare system.

“Connecticut Voices for children supports the proposed addition to section 46b-120 of the Connecticut General Statutes, which would clarify the distinction between poverty and neglect. Many families, through no fault of their own, struggle to provide basic necessities for their children. It should be the public policy of the state of Connecticut to provide services to support and preserve such families. Such an orientation is consistent with best practices in child welfare and with the policy of other states, many of whom have codified the distinction by creating an explicit exemption for poverty within their definition of neglect.

“Given that research shows that children do best in families and that removal from home is traumatic for children, it is in no one's interest to unnecessarily remove children from their biological families. Furthermore, keeping children in their families reduces strains on the child welfare system and, by allowing Connecticut to reserve resources and placements for children truly in need of out-of-home care, may even reduce unnecessary reliance on congregate care and increase the overall quality of out-of-home placements. We therefore strongly support including a poverty exemption within the definition of neglect, as provided for in SB 1199.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None submitted

Reported by: Nancy V. Ahern

Date: March 25, 2011