After Third Failing Grade on Federal Review, Hawaii Drawing Up Child Welfare Improvement Plan

Hawaii is working to develop a plan to improve its child welfare system after a federal review found that the state for the third time had failed to meet several federal standards for children in its foster care system.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) conducts the periodic Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) to assess state performance on meeting certain safety, permanency and well-being outcomes for children involved in the child welfare system.

Hawaii is hardly alone in this arena. No state has ever passed a CFSR review, though it is unclear how many have ever faced repercussions for this.

Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo credit: John Fowler

According to Hawaii’s most recent CFSR, the state’s Child Welfare Services (CWS) division did not meet federal thresholds for seven safety outcomes, including that “Children are, first and foremost, protected from abuse and neglect” and “Children receive adequate services to meet their physical and mental health needs.”

The state fared better in terms of seven categories associated with “systemic factors.” Hawaii was rated as “in substantial conformity,” or meeting federal standards, for five categories, including foster parent training and recruitment of foster and adoptive parents.

But CWS did not measure up in two areas: its case review system, and staff and provider training.

This is Hawaii’s third evaluation since 2003. In 2009, the last time the ACF conducted a CFSR in Hawaii, the state failed to meet federal thresholds for safety outcomes and also met five of seven systemic factors.

According to Monique Richards, a spokesperson for ACF, those results could have financial repercussions for CWS. The penalties would be assessed to the state’s “Title IV-B” funding, which supports family preservation and reunification from foster care, and part of its “Title IV-E” account, which reimburses the state for some costs related to foster care.

“The penalties are assessed from a pool of funds comprised of the state’s Title IV-B allotment and 10 percent of the state’s claims for administrative expenses under Title IV-E for the period under review,” Richards said, in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “A 1 percent penalty is assessed against that pool of funds for each outcome and systemic factor for which the state is found not in substantial conformity.”

In 2014, Hawaii’s Title IV-B allocation was $1.79 million.

But Hawaii will not incur a penalty just for failing the CFSR; indeed, no state has ever passed one since the process began. If a state addresses concerns raised in the CFSR through a program improvement plan (PIP), the penalties will not be levied, Richards said.

CWS has no current plans to appeal the findings of the CFSR, according to Keʻōpū Reelitz, a public information officer with Hawaii’s Department of Human Services.

“We are currently working with ACF to develop a program improvement plan (PIP) to address areas needing improvement and setting goals,” Reelitz said. “Once the plan is approved by ACF, our two-year PIP period begins.”

The Chronicle of Social Change has asked ACF how many states have ever been penalized for failing to meet its PIP benchmarks. A Freedom of Information Act request is pending with the agency.

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Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 351 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at