As reported earlier by The Chronicle, the Blue Ribbon Commission tapped to craft a revamping of the Los Angeles child protection system has called for a unifying agency with authority over the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and the counties other child-serving agencies.
Following is a look at some of the other major proposals included in the commission’s final report:
Interim Report Recommendations
The commission issued a set of 10 proposed reforms in late 2013 that it believed could be implemented immediately; none of them have been adopted yet. But, the District Attorney’s office has petitioned the Board of Supervisors for money to expand its electronic child abuse reporting unit as recommended by the commission.
The initial recommendation of the final report is to move on the recommendations laid out in the five-month-old interim report.
Click here for the commission’s interim report. A number of the recommendations relate to cross-collaboration between the Department of Children and Family Services and the 46 different law enforcement agencies at work in the county.
The major recommendation: Maximize the use of the county’s Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS). The system was designed to make it easy for child welfare and law enforcement entities to communicate about children at risk, but the system has been underfunded and its usage lopsided.
The commission recommends a dashboard of outcomes by which the efforts to reform child welfare should be measured. Among the suggested outcomes to track:
- Overall incidences of abuse and neglect, per capita, sorted by geographic area
- Severe abuse incidents
- Recurrence of maltreatment within six months
- Child fatalities attributed to abuse or neglect
- Access to services
- Juvenile justice involvement
- High school and/or college graduation rates
Under the commission’s vision, the new Board of Child Protection would track and report on these outcomes. The commission also recommended that DCFS use such outcomes in awarding contracts with private providers.
“No explicit attention is given to…program outcomes, reinforcing the impression that technical compliance takes precedent over programmatic outcomes,” the report said.
From the report: “We heard consistent testimony from social workers that they struggle with unreasonable workloads that include high caseloads, difficulties locating appropriate placements for children, and burdensome policies and paperwork.”
DCFS has already had a strategic plan for its own reform approved by the county. The commission took no stance on that plan in its final report, but did note that some testimony to the commission questioned the efficacy of the strategic plan.
It is also worth noting that in the commission’s proposal, DCFS and its plan would come under the purview of the newly established Board of Child Protection.
Just last week, the Chief Executive for the county released an recommended budget, which includes money to hire social workers.
Equal Funding for Kinship Caregivers
The commission recommended that the amount of financial support for a foster youth staying with family should be equal to that of a child in a traditional foster home. The county is in a particularly good position to do this, the report states, because it is currently operates under a federal IV-E waiver.
While under the waiver, the county can use federal dollars on any youth taken into foster care without concern about income tests or needs.
Foster Home Recruitment: Private vs County
The commission noted the wide gap between the number of foster families managed by contracted organizations called foster family agencies (FFA), and the numbers brought in by DCFS. There are 3,000 FFA-certified homes in Los Angeles, and 584 certified by DCFS.
“The board should call for an independent analysis of non-relative foster family recruitment efforts…to determine how the system can be more efficient and effective,” the report said.
The commission was highly impressed with a predictive analytics program developed by nonprofit service provider Eckerd in Florida. Eckerd, which oversees child welfare services in Hillsborough County (Tampa), used thousands of cases to establish 15 data points aimed at identifying the children most at risk of dying from neglect and/or abuse.
“Remarkably, Hillsborough County achieved a 100 percent reduction in child fatalities,” the commission report said. “This process is effective no matter what the size of the jurisdiction.”
Part of the benefit of establishing a predictive risk assessment, the report notes, would be the ability to better offer services and assistance before a case of abuse or neglect was substantiated.
“Los Angeles County does not have a comprehensive plan for child abuse prevention,” the report said. “DCFS does not adequately allocate its expenditures towards prevention, nor is it targeting those at greatest risk.”
The commission recommended that all children under DCFS supervision and who are younger than five should have prioritized access to Early Head Start, Head Start, Home Visitation and other early childhood development programs.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.