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November 20, 2003


Charlotte, NC -- Two years after the state began its quarterly look at how the county's Department of Social Services (DSS) protects children and strengthens families, reviewers say Mecklenburg child welfare workers show definite improvements.

"We are all very pleased with what we have seen and heard," said Judy Massengill, a program consultant for the N.C. Division of Children's Services. Massengill was part of a state team that spent three days reviewing 18 randomly selected child welfare cases handled by the DSS Youth and Family Services Division (YFS). The review helps Mecklenburg identify areas of practice that need attention. Massengill shared the team's preliminary findings during an Exit Conference on Thursday, Nov. 20.

"We definitely see that much progress has been made since that first review in November 2001," Massengill said. "Your efforts are definitely showing, and we can see it in the review."

The quarterly state review looks at seven outcomes, or performance indicators, around safety, permanency and well being. For example, 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.

YFS would have achieved substantial conformity in six of the seven outcome areas, except that two of the 18 random cases were not in compliance, Massengill said.

Positives from the review included: solid initial work in screening reports to determine whether suspected abuse or neglect meets the state's definition; good case transitions from one social worker to another so that families never had lags in service, and timely completion of investigations. Also, she noted good use of assessment tools and initiatives that encourage bringing in more family supporters to help resolve concerns; good contact with family members, and good work getting children through the system and into permanent homes in a timely way.

Where Mecklenburg can improve, she said, is in reviewing and considering case history in investigations. Also, she advised having in place a good system for meeting appointments when a social worker is unexpectedly absent, and being sure to always consider the most appropriate people to interview with knowledge about the case.

At stake beyond whether Mecklenburg DSS is doing its job well is whether North Carolina will do well when the federal government returns sometime late next year to review how well the state is doing in its child welfare work.
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 2004 or early 2005. 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.

"We're turning the corner," said Dannette Smith, director of the DSS Youth and Family Services Division, and she added that the improvement is apparent in the quality of the work. "This is right where we want to be as we're going into a federal audit,'' Smith said. "Some of the things we've been doing are beginning to pay off."

The next quarterly review is set for February 2004.

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