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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Despite November defeat, Cathie Cool Rumsey still works on issue close to her heart

Senate task force recommends more DCYF involvement in network contracts
Cathie Cool Rumsey, working to finish what she started

STATE HOUSE – A Senate task force considering the matter has recommended that the Department of Children, Youth and Families should have greater oversight and involvement in its contract with Family Care Networks, should transition toward more community-based services, including foster care, and should set specific goals, subject to continued legislative oversight.

Co-chaired by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist.12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and former senator Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich), the Senate Task Force on the Department of Children, Youth and Families and the Family Care Network spent several months exploring the continued challenges facing DCYF and the nonprofit networks that provide services to children in state care. 

Currently, DCYF and its networks are working together to successfully resolve contract negotiations, and the goal of the Senate task force was to ensure that oversight and public accountability are maintained as discussions move forward. The current contract expires June 30.

If implemented, the recommendations, many of which complement and emphasize the testimony provided by the Governor’s Resource Team, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and providers and community advocates, would:

  • improve accountability and transparency, 
  • improve the efficiency with which limited resources are expended, 
  • improve assessment of the effectiveness of the department’s services, 
  • keep caseloads at manageable levels for social workers, 
  • reduce out-of-state placements, 
  • encourage keeping siblings in foster care together and 
  • provide for a system of care that protects the safety and well-being of families in the most efficient, cost-effective way.

“We recognize that the job both DCYF and the networks are being asked to do, particularly given the limited funding available, is very difficult. Our recommendations are aimed at improving oversight so no effort is being doubled or wasted, so the limited resources that are available do the most good for the children who need DCYF’s help,” said Senator DiPalma.

Said former senator Cool Rumsey, “Of course there’s no panacea, but it is imperative that everyone involved in making policy decisions about state care for children work together very carefully to continually make adjustments that are necessary to properly serve children and families. We need to look at the results, recognize when changes need to be made, and have the flexibility to make them as swiftly as possible, because whenever we’re talking about ‘caseloads’ and ‘populations,’ we’re really talking about kids and parents: real people whose lives are affected.”

Among the 20 recommendations made in the report, the task force suggested that DCYF assign a manager of the contracts and work to increase accountability, develop standards and metrics for monitoring the implementation of the contracts, and carefully watch cash flowing through them. 

Part of the issue currently facing DCYF is that funding for the contract is on track to run out in April, three months before the end of the contract. It also recommends that DCYF consider itself the primary case manager of the families served through the contracts to eliminate confusion and duplication of work.

Some of the other recommendations involve a shift toward more community-based solutions, including increasing investments in preventative services and family supports that reduce DCYF caseloads, improve outcomes, and reduce the need for more intensive services, and increasing reimbursement rates for foster parents. 

In particular, it should develop and implement a continuous recruitment plan for foster parents, and eliminate a policy of reducing the reimbursement rates for siblings fostered by the same family, because it works against the goal of keeping siblings together.

The task force recommends continued government oversight, with several recommendations that DCYF report to the Senate or other government entities on the progress of various elements of the contracts. 

It also recommends that the newly inaugurated governor convene the Children’s Cabinet that the General Assembly approved through legislation, and that the governor ultimately make the decision on whether the contracts should be continued, renewed with changes or not renewed upon its end in June.

The report notes DCYF’s staff’s “dedication and commitment to the families and youth they serve,” and recognizes the “many positive outcomes occurring daily as a result of their work.”

The report is available on the General Assembly homepage, under the “reports” link.