RALEIGH — State lawmakers passed the Child Protective Services Improvement Initiative on Saturday, an act they hope will give the state Department of Social Services tools it needs to best protect children.
The CPSII was ushered into legislators’ hands after two high profile cases revealed significant DSS case mismanagement, a lack of background checks and a lack of communication between county Department of Social Services offices, while at the same time showing an increase in caseloads and a reduction of federal aid.
One high profile case occurred in Wilkes County. After being molested by their father, two children allegedly were raped by two caretakers they were placed with by Wilkes County DSS. The children contracted a sexually-transmitted disease, according to the arrest warrant. One of the caretakers previously had been convicted of child abuse in Surry County. The two caretakers remain in police custody awaiting trial.
Another high profile case occurred in Union County. A child under the care of a Union County Department of Social Services supervisor was found by police at the supervisor’s home handcuffed to the front porch with a dead chicken wrapped around his neck. Five social service workers were fired, one demoted, while the supervisor and her partner were charged by police for felony child abuse.
Representative Sarah Stevens (Wilkes, Surry), who is co-chair of the Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Omnibus Foster Care and Dependency, said she was pleased by the steps included in the budget.
“We have some money to provide more workers. Now we need revisions to the law to make the process more clear and to expedite the process to protect children,” said Stevens in voting for the budget bill.
According to Stevens, Child Protective Services’ should have a caseload no greater than 10 families at any time for workers performing child protective services assessments and 10 families at any time for staff providing in home services. However, data suggests that in 43 of the counties in the state, 21 have a caseload size of more than 15 cases per worker; and further, in nine of those 21 counties, there is an average caseload size of more than 20 cases per worker.
During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, records show county departments of social services lost federal funding for child protective services under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant and Title IV funding. However, the number of child protective services investigations has grown by 20 percent from fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2012.
Funding Child Protective Services
Lawmakers appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services, the sum of $7,369,970 for county departments of social services. Of those funds, $4,500,000 shall be used to replace federal funds counties lost during the 2013-2014 fiscal year previously used to pay for child protective services’ workers. Beginning Oct. 1, the remaining $2,869,970 shall be used to provide additional funding for child protective services’ workers to reduce caseloads to an average of 10 families per worker.
Funds in the amount of $4,500,000 are to be allocated for child welfare in-home services to provide and coordinate interventions and services that focus on child safety and protection, family preservation, and the prevention of further abuse or neglect.
Oversight of Child Welfare Services
Funds totalling $750,000 shall be allocated to fund nine positions to the division to enhance oversight of child welfare services in county departments of social services. These positions shall be used to monitor, train and provide technical assistance to the county departments of social services to ensure children and families are provided services that address the safety, permanency and well-being of children served by child welfare services.
Also, $300,000 shall be used to establish and implement a child protective services pilot program. The funds shall be used to enhance coordination of services and information among county departments of social services, local law enforcement agencies, the court system, Guardian ad Litem programs, and other agencies as deemed appropriate by the department.
The division shall coordinate with the Government Data Analytics Center (GDAC) in developing the pilot program and commence the pilot program by Dec. 1.
In addition, $700,000 shall be used to provide for a comprehensive, statewide evaluation of the state’s child protective services system. The Division of Social Services shall contract for an independent evaluation of the system, which evaluation shall include developing recommendations on the following:
(1) The performance of county departments of social services as related to child protective services.
(2) Caseload sizes.
(3) The administrative structure of the child protective services system in the State.
(4) Adequacy of funding.
(5) Child protective services’ worker turnover.
(6) Monitoring and oversight of county departments of social services.
The division shall report the findings and recommendations from the evaluation to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services no later than Jan. 4, 2016.
Study Conflicts of Interest/Public Guardianship and Child Protective Services.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services, shall study the issue of conflicts of interest in child welfare cases as related to public guardianship. In conducting the study, the department shall consider the following regarding addressing potential conflicts of interest:
(1) Creating internal firewalls to prevent information sharing and influence among staff members involved with the conflicting cases.
(2) Creating a formal or an informal “buddy system” allowing a county with a conflict to refer a case to a neighboring county.
(3) Referring the guardianship to a corporate guardian until the child welfare case is resolved.
(4) Having the Department assume responsibility for either the guardianship or the child welfare case.
(5) Recommending legislation to permit the clerk the option to appoint a public agency or official, other than the Director of Social Services, to serve as a disinterested public agent in exceptional circumstances only.
(6) Any other issues specific to this matter the Department deems appropriate.
The division shall submit a final report of its findings and recommendations to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services, the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and the Fiscal Research Division.
Anthony Gonzalez may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @newsgonz.