For the first time in the nearly three decades a federal court has overseen the Department of Children and Families’ reform efforts, the agency has sufficiently lowered caseloads for social workers serving vulnerable children and families.
Court monitor Raymond Mancuso released a report Monday evaluating the department’s compliance with federal oversight linked in the “Juan F.” lawsuit, which was brought against DCF for its failure to adequately care for abused and neglected children and led to the 1991 consent decree between the state and advocates who brought the suit.
The court monitor’s analysis found that DCF has made “significant progress” in providing funding to reduce social worker caseloads, which was mandated in a revised exit plan that provides a path out of federal oversight.
From January to June of last year, DCF hired 30 social workers each month to bring the department into compliance.
Meeting the caseload standard set in the exit plan, Mancuso wrote, is a “notable achievement” for the state and the department. “Reasonable caseload sizes and relative stability in the workforce allow the Department to better concentrate on the best practice issues so important to the outcomes for children and families.”
The agency still needs to improve in several key areas, the court monitor said, including its investigation practices and case planning process, but the increase in social workers has led to shorter wait lists for services and better assessments and care coordination.
“The number of incidents of unmet needs identified within sampled cases was considerably reduced from previous quarters,” the report says.
In a statement Monday, Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes praised her staff and state leaders for helping the agency make progress in this area.
“Appropriate staffing equates to better safety decisions, risk assessments and timely intervention for children and families,” Dorantes said. “As we ask our social workers to involve children, families and communities more fully as partners in our work, we must ensure that staff have the necessary time and support to do so.”
Dorantes also reiterated the department’s vision Monday: keeping children safely at home whenever possible; placing those who must enter state care into the homes of relatives; and, if they cannot be placed with someone they know, putting the children with a family by utilizing the state’s network of foster family homes. Less than a year into Durante’s tenure, the department has reduced the number of children in state care by almost 6%, while also increasing the number of children living with family members, she said.
Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights, and Steven Frederick, a partner at Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky, co-counsels for the plaintiff in the Juan F. lawsuit, released a statement saying they are “encouraged by the areas of progress reflected in this report – especially sustained lower caseloads for DCF front line staff and the improved service array supported by the current DCF budget.”
The lawyers went on to say the department’s case workers are doing difficult work and need the alleviation in their workloads to do their important jobs well.
“Meeting required staffing levels and service resources will be essential for this Administration to fully and successfully exit from this longstanding reform lawsuit,” the attorneys said. “DCF Commissioner Dorantes has been transparent about the problems still facing the Department and we believe she is committed to putting the full weight of her authority behind fixing them.”