Good morning Judge Chesler. It is a pleasure to be here before you today, along with Judith Meltzer, Marcia Lowry and my colleagues from the Department of Children and Families, to discuss the Federal Monitoring Report for period thirteen.
It has been a little more than nine months since we were here last, and certainly a lot has occurred since then. When I came before you in December 2012, New Jersey was still reeling from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy only two months prior. Families and children all over the state – including many of our own DCF employees – were still coming to terms with the impact of the storm, many displaced from their homes, schools, businesses, and the normalcy of everyday life.
At that time I testified to the strength and resilience of our department before during and after the storm, and shared with you the dedication of our entire team to ensure the safety and well-being of ALL of New Jersey’s children and families – not just those who were previously known to us.
Now, as we come upon the one-year-anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, I again must take a moment to reflect on all that the Department has accomplished – and continues to undertake – in relation to storm recovery. As I tell my team (almost daily), our long-term recovery work is really now an extension of our everyday mission at the department. Whether we are addressing the mental health needs of families and children impacted by the storm, working to prevent human trafficking of homeless and disenfranchised youth, or assessing the potential rise in child abuse and domestic violence in storm-impacted areas, our goal is to keep families strong, for we know that safe children and strong families are the backbone of a strong New Jersey.
I wish to offer my sincere gratitude to the Monitor, the Plaintiffs and this Court for also acknowledging the significant impact Superstorm Sandy had on our department, and for extending this reporting period from six to nine months. I believe we will be talking about Sandy’s effects for some time to come, and I look forward to sharing the successful outcomes of our long-term recovery work with you as time progresses.
Today, however, we are here to discuss the progress of our department, and compliance with the goals, principles and outcomes, related to the Modified Settlement Agreement.
As you know, your Honor, as of March 31, 2013, DCF has made significant improvement in many key areas where progress was previously limited, while at the same time sustaining gains already made to date.
I want to thank Judy and her team for acknowledging in the Period XIII Monitoring Report that, (and I quote), “there are multiple areas of strength and the data support the significant progress that has been made on many fronts.”
It should be noted that two performance measures were newly met during this monitoring period, and three additional performance measures were achieved at the conclusion of this monitoring period, which according to the Monitor’s report “indicates an upward trend in performance.” As you can see, your Honor, our efforts regarding timeliness of initial and current case plans, caseworker visits with parent and family members for children with a goal of reunification, and completion of independent living assessments for adolescents are yielding positive results for the department, but more importantly, for the children and families we serve.
Also significant this monitoring period is the fact that improved performance was documented for many additional performance measures, including such examples as timeliness of field response to investigations; holding initial and quarterly Family Team Meetings, caseworker visits with children in custody, visitation between children, parents and siblings placed apart, and provision of health passports to caregivers. In fact, our child health work was singled out again in this report, as DCF has maintained or improved performance on nearly all measures related to health care services for the past two years.
Lastly, I am delighted that the Monitor has acknowledged that the implementation of our Case Practice Model over the past several years has (quote) “helped the state significantly improve performance and in some instances meet MSA standards.” The report states, “Notably, the state’s performance for all MSA visitation measures has shown demonstrated improvement during this period.” The Monitor specifically highlights the weekly conferences held between a member of my staff, Area Directors and Local Office Managers to review individual office performance on specific measures, including visitation.
To say that I am exceptionally proud of this progress is an understatement, your Honor, as this improvement clearly indicates the creative and intensive strategies we have implemented department-wide are yielding positive results. I also believe it further illustrates the ability of DCF to adjust and adapt to changing circumstances, while still maintaining and improving upon our work.
With that said, there is always room for improvement, and that continues to be the case with all aspects of our practice. Please be assured that we are paying specific attention to our performance during the last monitoring period on measures related to the repeat maltreatment of children in out-of-home placement. And while we are proud of our improvement in the areas of completion and documentation of case plans, we know we must place a more focused effort on the quality of the case plans.
Overall, I believe DCF is at a point in its evolution where we must pause and evaluate the quality of our work across the entire spectrum. We are now in a place where we have achieved improved performance in many areas, but we know that good practice isn’t just about numbers. We must look beyond the numbers to assure that the quality of our work is not only consistent, but meaningful.
As you know, DCF’s work to utilize data to monitor our progress has been extremely beneficial over the past several years. Our quality-improvement strategies are showing great results, as acknowledged by the Monitor. ChildStat meetings and Quality Reviews (or QRs as we call them), are just two examples of strategies we have implemented to help us clearly understand our quality assurance and accountability process. I want to thank Judy and her team, as well as CRI, for participating in some of these quality assurance activities, as I believe it is beneficial as we work together to assess the ongoing strengthening of quality case practice and target improvement strategies.
Everyone at DCF – from the Commissioner’s suite down to our local DCP&P Offices, is grateful for the Monitor’s guidance, assistance and cooperation as we continue to fine tune our work related to the MSA. As always, I commit to this court, the Monitor and Plaintiffs, that we will continue to work cooperatively and in good faith for the ultimate benefit of our children and families.
As you know, our work is constantly evolving. This time last year we could never have envisioned a storm producing the devastation that Sandy did. But despite this significant disaster, we maintained our progress – and even improved! I think that says quite a bit about where we are today as a department – a mature, flexible, evolving department which is able to support a process of critical self analysis and acclimate to unexpected and extensive change, while still maintaining our commitment to the safety and well-being of the children and families of New Jersey.
Thank you, your Honor, for giving me the opportunity to share this very positive update with you today. And once again, I thank Judy, her team, and the plaintiffs and Governor Christie, for their continued commitment to the Department of Children and Families.