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Rhode Island Child and Family Services Review
September 2004

Background: The Child and Family Service Review is a process used by the US Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate public child welfare agency practices for safety, permanence and well being outcomes for children and families. The reviewers view each jurisdiction through three “lenses”:

1.  A statewide self assessment prepared by the agency.

2.  A comprehensive qualitative site review of:

  • Seven outcomes – two for safety, two for permanence and three for well being - for fifty randomly selected families.
  • Seven systemic factors – rating how well agency structure and processes support best practices.

The site visit data gathering involves file reviews and group and individual interviews with local stakeholders including the families and children. This qualitative outcome review requires a 90% rating to achieve substantial conformity. Systemic factors are rated on a four point scale and substantial conformity requires a rating of three or four.

3.  National quantitative standards established for six outcomes - two safety and four permanence outcomes - for all children active for the most recent available year.

These reviews have been completed for 52 jurisdictions - all fifty states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.None of these jurisdictions have been found in substantial conformity on all of the seven outcomes.

Thus far the national reviewers have concluded that there is a strong correlation between the time staff spend with parents and children and the achievement of positive outcomes. Also correlated with the achievement of positive outcomes is agency capacity for consistent and continuous quality improvement.

Summary: Rhode Island did achieve one of the six national quantitative standards (time to adoption) and achieved substantial conformity on one of the seven systemic factors (child information system – RICHIST). However, we did not achieve the 90 % standard for substantial conformity on any of the seven qualitative outcomes. As a result, like every other of the 51 jurisdictions that have been reviewed, we are required to develop and submit a two-year Program Improvement Plan (PIP). Rhode Island’s plan must be submitted by November 17, 2004 and must be approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Penalties are associated with failing to make good faith efforts at submitting and implementing a plan which ensures improvement over the following two years in all outcomes, national standard measures and systemic factors.

While all 52 jurisdictions were measured against the same standards, Rhode Island and a few other states have more varied population groups included in the review. DCYF is responsible for child welfare, juvenile corrections and children’s behavioral health. The majority of states are only assessed for their child welfare population. For Rhode Island to achieve the standards with our three priority populations, we must provide more family driven assessments and plans and an accessible and flexible array of care, services and supports to implement those plans. In short, Rhode Island must implement family-centered community-based practice.

Key Rhode Island findings:
Front-line Practice: Rhode Island ranked low in our ability to provide staff with the time to spend with children and families. States where social workers spend sufficient purposeful time with children and families achieve more positive outcomes;
Quality Assurance: Rhode Island only has a nascent quality improvement system. States with an effective quality improvement process are more likely to achieve positive outcomes;
Court Relations: Rhode Island ranked low in the level of collaboration between DCYF and the Family Court. States where the public child welfare agencies and Family Courts collaborate are more likely to achieve positive outcomes.
Safety: Rhode Island did not achieve substantial conformity or meet the national standards in this area. Issues impacting this include the lack of accessible community-based service, care and supports; a lack of sufficient and effective training for substitute caretakers, and Rhode Island’s practice of categorizing certain licensing violations as foster parent abuse or neglect when there is no actual harm to an individual child.
Permanence: Rhode Island did not achieve substantial conformity in this area. Issues: inadequate family supports to ensure permanency, over-reliance on emergency shelter and Department and Family Court practices that are not aggressive enough in seeking termination of parental rights and participation of fathers and relatives.
Well-Being: Rhode Island did not achieve substantial conformity in this area. Issues negatively impacting this include a lack of ongoing comprehensive assessments; frequent exclusion of fathers; lack of accessible responsive community services; demands on staff for documentation, transportation and court that diminish staff contacts with children and families; lack of focus on educational, physical and mental health needs of the entire family, particularly when juvenile justice or mental health concerns, rather than abuse or neglect, are the presenting problem; and insufficient mental health services.
Juvenile Justice: The traditional juvenile corrections and probation practice of focusing on the individual adjudicated youth and the issues related to that youth’s involvement with the courts needs to dramatically change to improve outcomes. That is, we must move from the current practice of focusing primarily on the needs of the adjudicated youth to a comprehensive, family-centered community-based model which addresses the needs of the entire family as well as the youth’s behavior to improve both community safety and youth success outcomes.
Systemic Factors: The Review measured the state’s level of achievement for seven systemic factors: 1) Information system capacity, 2) Case review system, 3) Training, 4) Service array, 5) Quality assurance, 6) Agency responsiveness to the community, 7) Foster care and adoptive licensing, recruitment and retention. We achieved the highest rating possible on information system capacity. We were found out of substantial conformity on the other six factors. The remaining six factors received a two on the four point scale. Issues negatively impacting these six factors include the working relationship with the Family Court; a service system which is not accessible or flexible in responding to individual family strengths, risks and needs; lack of training for juvenile probation staff and frontline supervisors and in-service training in general; insufficient recruitment of minority foster and adoptive families; limited access to cross state adoption resources; and the lack of an effective quality improvement system. Positive systemic factors in place that were recognized include foster and adoptive parent licensing safety and health quality standards, caregiver review and hearing notification, mutual efforts to strengthen the working relationship between DCYF and the Family Court and the pre-service training program for child welfare social caseworkers.

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