After moving closer to compliance with its court supervision exit plan in the first quarter of 2016, the state Department of Children and Families was unable to make additional progress in the second and third quarters of 2016, a federal court monitor reported Tuesday.
The court monitor, Raymond Mancuso, said much of blame for DCF’s continued failure to meet certain compliance standards – the most significant of which is whether enough of children’s needs are being met – falls on the state government.
“It was then, and remains clear now, that the state’s past and present unwillingness to consistently commit the necessary resources to the agency has been one of the principal undisputed reasons the current 22 outcome measures have not been met and sustained,” Mancuso wrote.
“What has become abundantly clear is that the expectation that the department can routinely meet all of the Juan F. requirements is not feasible under the current conditions,” Mancuso added later.
Mancuso’s report comes in advance of a scheduled April 20 court hearing in the decades-old Juan F. case, where a federal judge might take action to ensure DCF compliance. The plaintiffs provided a notice of actual or likely noncompliance to the court on Feb. 1, triggering a 30-day window for the parties to reach an agreement on how to resolve it.
The notice came after the General Assembly rejected a proposal that would have prevented the state from cutting DCF’s budget and moved the department closer to exiting federal court supervision.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said her agency has made “tremendous progress,” but she “deeply regrets” the General Assembly’s decision.
“I understand that legislators felt the modified agreement limited the capacity to reduce agency spending, however, the agreement called for a bottom line that is below what the General Assembly itself appropriated since at least SFY2008,” Katz said in a statement. “It needs to be noted in this context that the department has done the best in achieving the exit plan outcome measures when staffing is adequate and stable.”
Mancuso’s report found that DCF met 16 of the 22 requirements in both the second and third quarters of 2016 – the same as it met in the first quarter – though the 16 requirements met in the second quarter were not the same 16 met in the third quarter. Thirteen of the requirements were met in both quarters.
The report found the agency’s ongoing struggle to meet enough of children’s basic needs continued through the middle of 2016. Despite meeting 70.4 percent of children’s basic needs in the 54 cases examined in the first quarter of the year, that number dropped to 61.1 percent in the 108 cases examined between April and September. Both values are still well below the 80 percent threshold required in the exit plan.
For years, Mancuso has pointed to the department’s staffing levels as a primary source of its shortcomings. He did so again in his report Tuesday.
Mancuso said 94 social workers are over the department’s 100 percent caseload limit, and 590 have caseloads more than 80 percent of the maximum limit.
“Additional staffing and community resources are sorely needed,” Mancuso wrote. “They must be utilized in conjunction with the implementation of significant practice improvements that are also required.”