When the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee began its work back in August, many feared its work would be an exercise in futility.
As someone who has spoken long and loud about the failure of DCS to protect abused and neglected children, I worried the committee would provide little more than endless debate with no real action. Reformers like myself would complain about the problems with DCS, while the administration would offer lengthy defenses of the agency’s work. Lots of talk, but no action.
But as we sit here on the brink of a new legislative session, I must say the committee has made remarkable strides in addressing concerns about DCS, and we are ready to move forward in 2013 with bipartisan reforms that begin the process of making our children safer.
I must compliment State Sen. Travis Holdman for his willingness to consider proposals from the Democratic members of the group.
I am particularly pleased that we were able to recognize the flaws of a centralized hotline to address all child abuse complaints. Such a system simply did not allow for local caseworkers to be able to respond quickly to concerns happening in their area. The proposed change will get these calls in the hands of local case managers as soon as possible.
Oversight will be improved through a new legislative panel, as well as a Commission on Children. These groups will be able to review policies already established by DCS, and recommend changes that promote the protection of our children.
Under this broad definition, I easily envision study and recommendations in a number of areas, including improved training and education for family case managers and expanded definitions of children who can receive immediate protection.
There will be a renewed effort to prioritize the allocation of financial and human resources to children’s services and field staff at the local level, including reviewing policies to make sure we are meeting the needs of counties in our state that have the highest rates of abuse and neglect.
Best of all, there will be a conscious effort to improve the lines of communication at all levels in this system: particularly between management and case workers, and between the agency itself and local advocates and law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts.
In that light, it is good to see that the study committee’s recommendations for legislative action include a call for more comprehensive review of unexplained child fatalities by local review teams. I’ll be proposing to place the teams under the guidance of the state Department of Health.
These are all good steps forward. They reflect the willingness of all parties involved to recognize that there is a problem, and a desire to see more done.
But that is not all I will seek in the upcoming session. I want more done, and I will certainly make every effort to pass more reforms.
I would like a more substantive review of current policies that remove children from treatment facilities within 20 days, rather than 30 days. I would like to see a clearer definition of the status of children who should receive services, including those who should be classified as having “indicated but not substantiated” abuse and neglect.
Finally, I would like to see what can be done to reduce the amount of turnover among DCS personnel. These people are in the front line of protecting children, and they deserve our thanks and our consideration in helping them do a job that is more difficult than any of us can imagine.
These are substantial steps that are being taken, but we are talking about an area where any child being abused is one child too many.
Zero tolerance remains our ultimate goal. We will continue to do everything in our power to make that a reality.