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Progress of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families July 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013

 Washington, D.C. (October 1, 2013) – Today the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), the court-appointed monitor for Charlie and Nadine H. v. Christie, issued its latest monitoring report on the progress of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) in meeting the requirements of the Modified Settlement Agreement (MSA) governing reforms of New Jersey’s child welfare system.

The monitor’s report independently verifies and documents the state’s progress towards meeting the outcomes and performance measures of the MSA during the period of July 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013. Due to the difficulties Superstorm Sandy created for the state and its ability to provide services in the immediate aftermath of the storm the parties agreed, and the court sanctioned, extending the report period. The performance data for this report cover nine months. Moving forward, the report will resume a six-month schedule.

In the monitor’s assessment, DCF remains appropriately focused on efforts to sustain gains already made under the MSA and to accelerate performance with remaining performance measures.  As of March 31, 2013, DCF had met 21, and partially met eight, of the 53 Phase II performance measures. There are an additional 10 measures that were not met but where performance improved during the monitoring period. There are also continuing challenges, most notably around quality of case planning and case practice and increased rates of repeat maltreatment.  

Highlights of areas of accomplishment and continued challenges are highlighted below and more detail is provided on each area in the full report.

Investigative Practice

  • There are many strengths to DCF’s investigative practice. The State Central Registry (SCR) operates professionally, efficiently and effectively; reports of alleged abuse and neglect are appropriately screened and timely forwarded to the field for investigation.
  • Investigation caseloads rose in the previous monitoring period and although improved in this nine-month monitoring period, are still higher than acceptable.
  • The remaining areas of challenge, perhaps affected by the caseloads, are ensuring timely completion of investigations and improving the quality of investigative practices and decision-making to ensure consistent quality practice.

Implementation of the Case Practice Model

  • DCF initiated a number of new strategies to improve case practice performance that have helped to improve performance and in some instances meet specific MSA requirements by the end of the monitoring period.
  • The Quality Review (QR) ratings, which measure performance on family engagement, effective use of Family Team Meetings and on the quality of case planning with children, youth and families, remain low and DCF needs further improvement in the quality of case practice.

Placement of Children in Out-of-Home Care

  • DCF has continued to meet standards related to the placement of children in a family-like setting and within placement capacity limits.
  • Ninety-nine percent of cases examined through the QR were judged to be acceptable on the appropriateness of a child’s placement.
  • There are now almost no children placed out of state for treatment and DCF meets all of the MSA requirements regarding restrictions on the use of inappropriate placements such as congregate care for young children and detention placements.
  • There is consistent performance demonstrated in not placing youth under age 13 in shelters and appropriate use of shelters for emergency placement for older youth.
  • There has been strong performance on placement of sibling groups together with the exception of the need for additional resources for sibling groups of four or more children.

Repeat Maltreatment and Re-Entry into Foster Care

  • In this monitoring period, while performance of risk re-assessments completed within 30 days of case closure improved to 59 percent, it remains below the MSA target.
  • Based upon the most recent data available from calendar year 2011, DCF’s performance on each of the measures related to the repeat maltreatment of children who either remained in their own home after a substantiation of abuse or neglect or reunified after placement in out-of-home care is below the acceptable performance standard. Performance in this area declined in this latest monitoring period, raising important concerns that may be related to the quality of investigations and some of the case practice issues noted in the report.
  • Also concerning is the rate of children and youth who re-enter placement within one year of leaving custody based upon the most recent data available from calendar year 2011.

Timely Permanency through Reunification, Adoption or Legal Guardianship

  • Overall, DCF’s performance in timely meeting permanency goals and discharging children to permanency has remained the same or declined and does not meet the levels required by the MSA.
  • The one exception is that performance on finalizing adoptions within nine months of an adoptive placement remains strong.

Health and Mental Health Care for Children in Out-of-Home Placement

  • Since June 2011, DCF has maintained or improved performance on nearly all of the performance measures related to health care and mental health services.
  • The Quality Review (QR) ratings on the provision of health services to children and youth were rated acceptable for 99 percent of reviewed cases.

Services to Prevent Entry into Foster Care and To Support Reunification and Permanency

  • As part of the state’s strategies to support families to keep children safe at home, DCF has invested substantially over the past four years in Family Success Centers (FSCs), neighborhood-based centers where families can access services before falling into crisis.
  • This investment has resulted in a network of FSCs across the state that proved critically important for many New Jersey families affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Services to Older Youth

  • DCF has made improvements to the provision of services and supports to adolescents, including those older youth who are preparing to transition from care.
  • Ninety-eight percent of youth ages 14 to18 completed Independent Living Assessments. This was the first time this measure has been met.
  • Challenges remain in ensuring that older youth in foster care are appropriately assessed, engaged and linked to needed resources and supports and that those youth exiting care without permanency have housing, are employed or in training or in an educational program.

The full report – embargoed until 2:30 p.m. (ET) – formally presented to the Honorable Stanley R. Chesler of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, can be viewed here

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