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Good afternoon, your honor.

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ steady progress fulfilling the requirements of the Sustainability and Exit Plan continues.

Little more than one hundred days ago the monitor reported we achieved six more Exit Plan requirements.

Today, the monitor disclosed we’ve achieved four more requirements.  I’m pleased to report we also substantially complied with several others.

In less than two years, we’ve achieved and maintained eighty percent of the Exit Plan’s fifty-nine elements.  And that percentage is higher – reaching eight-six percent – when adding measures of substantial compliance.

At the last hearing, I noted we achieved or substantially complied with all Exit Plan measures at the earliest stage of a family’s involvement with us.

That was – and continues to be – a proud milestone for our department.

But today, by achieving four more requirements and reaching substantial compliance with several others, we’ve reached two new milestones.

By achieving the requirement for housing for older youth exiting to non-permanency and the requirement for employment and education for those same youth, we achieved every older youth measure.

The monitor notes our performance reflects our staff’s intensive work ensuring youth exiting care without achieving legal permanency have housing and are either employed or getting an education.

Thanks to the work of our Office of Adolescent Services and significant enhancements to our adolescent practice during the last few years, we are seeing more positive outcomes among the adolescents we serve.

New training and new and updated policies ensure our assessment, engagement, and planning practices reflect youth-driven principles, adolescent development, and neuroscience.

Thanks to technology, we are providing youth easier access to services.  Youth receive their Independent Living Stipend via debit card or direct deposit.  Housing options for youth are available through a centralized housing system.  And the New Jersey Youth Resource Spot website provides information on resources, opportunities, news, and events for young people in New Jersey.

Thanks to the leadership and vision of several other departments of state government, older youth are receiving help finding jobs, post-secondary options, and places to live.

Through partnerships with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Education, DCF staff and providers are being trained on the New Jersey Career Assistance Navigator, an online resource for finding work and pursuing an education.  This training prepares our caseworkers to more effectively counsel and guide youth as they pursue their dreams and futures.

These departments are also informing our staff and adolescent service providers on education and youth employment services and supports available to youth.

The Department of Community Affairs has been a true friend to our older youth, providing them housing vouchers and ensuring they have permanent housing once their case is closed.

The second milestone is the child placement category.

By achieving the requirement for placement stability for the first 12 months a child is in care, we’ve now achieved every child placement requirement.

There are several ways we work to achieve placement stability for children.  One way is deploying Mobile Response and Stabilization Services at the time a child is placed with a resource or kinship family.

First created to respond to calls of a child in crisis, we’ve expanded the program’s mission to include visiting resource homes soon after a child’s placement.

Mobile Response now quickly begins building a relationship with the family and child, establishing familiarity and trust.  This makes it easier for the family to seek help if needed.

Beyond relationship building, we dispatch Mobile Response upon placement to address the child’s trauma.  Based on the child’s clinical needs, we will provide a combination of short-term stabilization services and referrals for long-term treatment.  By addressing the trauma quickly, we can improve the child’s emotional wellbeing and, we believe, reduce the likelihood the child will need to be moved to a different family.

We began proactively deploying Mobile Response as a pilot.  First limited to Mercer County, the pilot’s results encouraged us to expand it to Hunterdon, Somerset, and Warren counties.  Proactive deployment is now statewide; addressing trauma and helping make every placement stable and successful.

We’re also training resource parents and caregivers in the Nurtured Heart Approach.  This parenting approach was developed for caregivers working with children with many behavioral challenges, challenges often the result of childhood trauma. Found to be effective with children of all ages, the Nurtured Heart Approach is a strength-based and positive approach to parenting.  It helps children become self-aware and learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors.  We believe it will help reduce maltreatment.

Your honor, we previously achieved one of the Timely Permanency category’s four measures.  But this period we made progress on the others, reaching substantial compliance on each by coming within one percent of two measures and two percent of the other.

The monitor’s report noted our continued emphasis on Case Practice Model training, but our focus has widened.  It not only includes implementing, but now also sustaining the Case Practice Model.  This involves building capacity, strengthening our infrastructure, and developing local office leadership.

Achieving this will help us further focus on improving permanency outcomes.

Supervisors are learning to guide caseworkers in the Model.  They’re supporting our caseworkers’ training and demonstrating the skills and attitudes – respect, genuineness, empathy, and competency – critical to working effectively with families.

By developing strong supervisors, caseworkers will benefit from onsite coaching and mentoring, helping sustain the Model and embedding it further in our culture.

To further improve permanency outcomes, we regularly review our work.  It enables us to learn what is and isn’t working.  And sometimes we learn why.

But this is half the picture.  Applying what we learn completes it.

We actively apply insight from our Continuous Quality Improvement process to develop new programs to improve child permanency, safety, and wellbeing.

For example, our monthly Child Stat meetings permit local offices to conduct self-assessments that improve practice at all levels.  Staff benefits from learning from the challenges other local offices have experienced with complex cases.

Child Stat attendees are DCF staff, partners, and community providers, and they actively and collectively brainstorm for solutions.

In addition to Child Stat, local offices conduct case reviews, sharing what they’ve learned with staff and community partners.

We also achieved the measure for maltreatment post-reunification this reporting period, leaving one measure to be achieved in the maltreatment category.

For families and children preparing for reunification and for families whose children are at imminent risk of an out-of-home placement, we provide an intensive, in-home crisis intervention and family education program to support safe reunifications and prevent out-of-home placements.

Family Preservation Services seeks to keep children safe, stabilize families, and improve family functioning.  It provides child and family assessments, skill-based interventions, access to emergency financial assistance for concrete supports, and linkages to community resources.

Interventions are intensive and families receive five to twenty hours of face-to-face service time each week.  Designed to build on family strengths and respond to family needs, Family Preservation Services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for up to eight weeks.

A key pillar of the department’s strategic plan is transitioning our core child welfare service array toward evidence-supported programing coupled with appropriate implementation and evaluation supports.  We have begun rolling out this plan, and recently awarded contracts to non-profits in all 21 counties.  They will provide Intensive Family Preservation Services as well as a step down program.

Your honor, the accelerated pace in which our workers are achieving the Exit Plan’s requirements has energized them.  To them, it is the clearest sign that their work – and the work of their colleagues – is making a real and significant difference, creating a sense of momentum and inevitability department-wide.

I am proud of their effort and achievement, and everything they’ve done on behalf of New Jersey’s children and families.

Thank you, your honor.