August 21, 2003
STATE REVIEW OF COUNTY'S CHILD WELFARE EFFORTS SHOWS STRENGTHS AND AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
CHARLOTTE, NC - Mecklenburg County's work to keep children safe from abuse and neglect and to help strengthen families shows excellent service in several areas. However, a state review also points out slow progress in improvements to other child welfare practices that potentially expose children to risk.
The review helps Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) identify its strengths and focus on areas that need improvement and additional resources. It also helps North Carolina prepare for an upcoming federal government review of the state's child welfare practices.
"In most cases, we found a lot of good work and services being provided to families and children," said Judy Massengill, program consultant for the N.C. Division of Children's Services. "Progress is being made, but in some areas that progress is slow."
A three-day review of 18 randomly selected cases handled by the DSS Youth and Family Services Division (YFS) began on Monday, Aug. 18, 2003, and ended Wednesday. On Thursday morning Massengill shared the preliminary results of the quarterly Child and Family Services Review.
The review looks at seven outcomes or performance indicators around safety, permanency and well being. One of the safety outcomes is whether children are first and foremost protected from abuse or neglect. One permanency outcome is whether the continuity of family relationships and connections is preserved for children. For well being, one outcome is that children receive appropriate services to meet their educational needs.
Preliminary results show strengths in the following areas:
· Use of the Team Decision-Making process, which works to bring the family and their supporters into the decisions about the child's welfare
· Connecting with relatives and other family contacts such as teachers, neighbors and ministers during the investigation and family assessment phases
· Timely assessment of educational needs
· Use of visitation to ensure sibling and parent connections
· Stability of placement
Areas identified as needing improvement include:
· Efforts to make contact with absent fathers
· Consistency in working with kinship care placements
· Timely implementation of court-ordered mental health evaluations
· Timely resolution to the problems identified in cases where abuse or neglect has been substantiated, but the child is able to safely remain in the home while YFS works with the family
"What's good about the review is that we'll be able to use the results and the recommendations to strengthen our work and provide a comprehensive approach to protecting children and serving families in Mecklenburg," said Dannette Smith, director of YFS. "These challenges highlight the fact that the changes required to improve require the support of the community and multiple public systems including the courts, mental health, schools and child welfare service providers."
The random case records were chosen from the period of October 2002 to the present. The process involved review of each case record, interviews with YFS social workers and supervisors, and interviews with family members and community providers. The 18 case records represented six in-home case management services cases (YFS Family Intervention unit), six placement cases (YFS Permanency Planning unit), and six investigation cases.
Passage of the 1997 Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) means states have an increased accountability for public child welfare systems. Under ASFA, the federal government is monitoring states around the three key outcomes of safety, permanency and well being. The federal government is expected to return to North Carolina in late 2003 or early 2004. North Carolina's first federal review was in March 2001. Mecklenburg County will participate in all of the child welfare reviews because it is the state's highest populated urban county.
The next quarterly review is set for November.