The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has a communication problem, and a bad reputation for working with foster families, according to a new report released by Mercury Public Affairs.
The report is a result of DCFS’ recruitment of Mercury to conduct an investigation on the department’s communication efforts. As part of their investigation, Mercury conducted more than 40 interviews with internal and external stakeholders in contact with the department. Stakeholders included former foster youth, social workers, community-based organizations and DCFS leadership.
The department is now working closely with Mercury Public Affairs as it begins implementing these recommendations.
“We’re considering many of the recommendations that came out of the report, including around the way we communicate both internally and externally, such as redesigning our website to be more customer-service oriented and creating more forums for meaningful exchange,” said Genie Chough, assistant deputy director of DCFS.
The report is divided between findings that focus on communications within the department, and on the experiences of community-based organizations and caregivers that work with DCFS.
Internal stakeholder interviews revealed a disconnect between leadership and social workers. “Social workers describe a hierarchical structure that inhibits their ability to reach out to levels beyond their immediate supervisor,” the report reads.
In addition, the report finds that social workers feel that information is not always shared fast enough among staff and that there is no clear pathway to talk to leadership. This lack of communication sometimes hinders their work and prevents them from receiving answers to their questions.
The findings also revealed confusion about articulating the mission of DCFS. While all participants spoke of their mission to ensure children’s safety, the research found that staff did not have a universally understood mission for the department’s goals.
Interviews with DCFS’ external stakeholders led Mercury to conclude that the agency has a “bad reputation” when it comes to the process of becoming a foster parent.
External stakeholders expressed frustration with the way that DCFS’ priorities shifted. The consensus from interviewed partners was that “DCFS is always responding to external influences rather than creating a long-term vision for caring for children and families, and linking all of its work back to this,” the report said.
External interviews also touched on the need for DCFS to be a connector to other resources. Due to the overwhelming nature of navigating the system, social workers lack information on resources available to foster youth that then becomes a lack 0f access to these resources. Stakeholders further commented that they experienced delays or lack of responsiveness from social workers and supervisors.
Mercury presents recommendations based on these findings. To address the disconnect of resources between families and social workers, the firm suggested the development of a web-based tool to use as a database of resources.
To address the lack of clarity of DCFS’ mission, Mercury recommended that the department develop a new mission statement that stresses the role of DCFS as a partner with its caseworkers and that is communicated and updated across all staff and offices.
Another major recommendation by the report called for the inclusion of social workers in considering policy proposals and the creation of a social worker policy committee. Mercury contends that this will give social workers more ownership and allow them to be more prepared to work with these policies.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn applauded DCFS’ initiative to evaluate and improve their communication tactics.
“Taking on the responsibility of caring for a child is not easy and the Department of Children and Families has to ensure that they not only communicate with these families but give them the information, resources and support they need to succeed,” Hahn said in an email statement sent to The Chronicle. “Anything less than that is unacceptable. I appreciate that DCFS is being proactive about improving their communications strategies both to the social workers within the department and the caregivers, youth, and families they serve.”
You can read the report’s findings here.