GOVERNOR BAKER RESTRUCTURES THE DCF : IS IT ENOUGH ?

CB today

^ at a presser this morning, Governor Baker and DCF Commissioner Linda Spears announce a major agency restructure.

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Below I have reprinted the actual items of Department of Children and Families (DCF) reforms that Governor Bake4r announced this morning. These reforms have been occasioned by tragic events that DCF either failed to prevent or misjudged via the standards that baker has now replaced. Most moving of these tragic ends was that of “Baby Doe” Bella Bond, who, it is alleged, was killed by her mother’s live-in boyfriend, a man deep in the clutches of long-term addiction, as was the mother herself.

I have an opinion about these reforms to DCF, but before I give it, I urge you to read the itemized reform list :

New DCF Intake Policy  

The Department’s intake policy covering the period of time from when an allegation of abuse or neglect is filed (51a) through the investigation, substantiation of a claim and opening of a case, has not been updated in 12 years. Through negotiations with SEIU Local 509 leadership already underway, the policy will be updated by November 17, 2015. Reforms will include:

·       Standardized risk assessment tools for social workers

·       CORI checks in all DCF cases (Currently used in approximately 70% of cases)

·       Review of the entire family or household’s prior or current involvement with DCF

·       Review of frequency and type of emergency (9-1-1 calls) responses to the home

·       Parental capacity assessment

New Supervisor Policy

The new supervisor policy to be implemented by November 17, 2015 consistently across all DCF offices, will include detailed, mandated steps for case review and management support necessary to working with all families and especially those with complex conditions, ensuring all information about the family is understood and special consultation is provided for thorough understanding of a case and decisions to protect the children involved.

Examine All Complex Cases Within the Department

Regional Directors began examining more complex in-home cases where there are multiple abuse reports.  DCF directors will use a nationally developed child welfare continuous quality improvement (CQI) tool to assess several facets of cases including: safety, stability, placement needs, permanency, wellbeing, engagement of service providers, understanding of case situation and context.

Retention and Recruitment of Social Workers; Reinstating Technicians

The stress of high caseloads at an average of 20.66:1 in July is cited as a primary reason for the loss of social workers and the Department continues to target an 18:1 average caseload. DCF management and union leadership will make a concerted effort to develop strategies for retention and recruitment of social workers by Fall of 2015, as the Department continues to hire new social workers with the $35.5 million increase provided in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. DCF will also work towards reinstating social work technicians, first eliminated due to budget reductions in 2009 and critical to providing non-clinical support for caseworkers and families.  

Reestablishing the Central Massachusetts Regional Office

Budget reductions in 2009 also forced the closing of DCF’s Central MA Regional Office, resulting in the Western Office taking on more than 50% of the state’s geography and caseload. The Department will reinstate the Central Regional Office in Worcester by January 1, 2016, with managerial, administrative, legal, nursing and other staff to increase frontline workers’ access to supervision and other support resources.  

Reduce Backlog for Foster Home Applicants

The Department will initiate further efforts by this fall to meet the immediate needs for placing children in safe, caring foster homes, working with social service providers to review applicants and reduce the applicant backlog.

Other Reforms and Policy Updates

The Department and union leadership by March of 2016, will also develop and implement a new Practice Model as well as policies around Ongoing Casework, Family Assessment and Service Planning, Case Closing and Coordination with service partners, Data Integration, and Foster Homes – all reforms recommended by the CWLA Blueprint.

New Specialist Positions include: medical social workers statewide, Central Regional Director, Ombudsperson, Assistant Commissioner for Adoption and Foster Care, and Director of Strategic Initiatives.

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These reforms were worked out by DCF management, its leader Linda Spears, and SEIU Local 509 representing DCF’s social workers. There are some who feel that structural reforms shouldn’t need SEIU participation; with that, I disagree. It’s the social workers who have to do the front line work and who are held accountable if they do it wrong. How can it not be vital to them that DCF get it right, when, starting in year 2009, the agency’s budget was slashed, important support positions were eliminated, and caseloads fore ach social worker increased way beyond the agreed number ? These imbalances have now been made good. SEIU Local 509’s participation was crucial to getting there.

Governor Baker’s forte is institutional reform. It’s how, at Harvard Pilgrim, he won respect from the state’s institutional public. Thus I expected no less than the major accomplishment he has now achieved. And as Baker says often — I am paraphrasing — “at the end of the day, the voters want to know that the State services they pay for get delivered to them effectively, efficiently.” To the extent that systematic reform can accomplish this, Baker will without a doubt achieve.

In the case of DCF, however, I don’t think that systematic transformation is enough. DCF is not a health clinic; yet most of the people it becomes involved with live deep in addiction — just like Bella Bond’s Mom and Mom’s boyfriend. DCF can’t possibly hire enough people to oversee every family in addiction, not even close. Commissioner Spears concedes that the DCF caseload has increased by 30 percent : but addiction impacts far more homes than that. Unless the State puts in place an apparatus for treating the addiuction epidemic, DCF will fall short even if it restructures once a month.

I know that Governor Baker knows this. He has an Opioid addiction working group, and it is moving diligently to get a treatment structure in place f or opioid addicts. Baker’s people passionately defend the Opioid Addiction Working Group; they are right to do so. Yet the group is taking an institutional approach to solving a crisis that in my opinion needs an ad hoc component. The addiction and recovery communities are directly affected, and it is they who, as I have had reason to see, are working out solutions of their own to the addiction menace. The recovery community provides support for each addict and a networking method to keep every addict bonded to every other. To me, no remedy seems more crucial. Addiction causes isolation, and isolation aggravates addiction. Networking addicts to one another, and people in recovery to all, can bust the isolation gene instantly.

In my opinion, baker should import this ad hoc component and make it a vital part of his Opioid Addiction response. The sooner he can bring the addiction and recovery community itself into the solutions discussion, the sooner, in my opinion, he can lighten the burdens that addiction places on DCF.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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