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Good afternoon your Honor.  On behalf of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, thank you for the opportunity to update you on the status of our reform efforts and our recent agreement to a Sustainability and Exit Plan to replace the Modified Settlement Agreement.

The Exit Plan is a watershed moment for the Department and New Jersey's children and families.  The Exit Plan acknowledges the extraordinary successes we've made while using data to align our future goals with those of New Jersey's children.  This is a momentous day.

You may recall several of our area directors attended the last hearing.  We have more today.  In fact, we have a broad cross section of staff here.  They're here because we continuously seek ways to improve our system.  They're here because they are committed to our reform effort and improving outcomes for New Jersey's children and families.  They've come from throughout the state to witness today's hearing and learn from the experience.

Our Office of Research Evaluation and Reporting is here, too.  These professionals are critical to our efforts to continuously learn and improve our work.  Using data, they measure which programs and services are effective and which need adjusting.  They also analyze our child welfare data, identifying trends and, when possible, explaining why things are occurring.

As you know, your Honor, our department has embraced data.  It is one of several areas where we reformed our work, modernizing and transforming ourselves into a new and more effective department that is quickly becoming a model not only for other states but for countries around the world.

For instance, we received a $12 million competitive grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency to support services for youth with complex behavioral health challenges.

We also received a half million dollar federal grant to help youth waiting the longest for adoption find a welcoming and supportive family.  Key to winning this grant was the fact we could immediately mobilize and quickly implement the program.

In addition, we received a $2 million competitive grant from the Administration for Children and Families for a pilot project to prevent homelessness among New Jersey youth currently or previously in foster care.  The project seeks to help youth in foster care between 14 and 21 years old achieve permanency; find safe, affordable, and stable housing; and achieve their academic and career goals.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing, thanks to funding from Casey Family Programs, is providing technical assistance to help us expand our Keeping Families Together pilot program.  This program addresses permanent supportive housing for child welfare-involved families with co-occurring challenges.  The insight we learn from this pilot program will inform our work in New Jersey and the work of other agencies throughout the nation.

We are especially proud that other countries, territories, and states have sought our guidance and advice.  But they're doing more than calling and emailing us questions and asking for information.

They're traveling here.  They're coming to meet us; to learn and see firsthand what this department is doing so they can better address the needs of their citizens.

In recent months, officials from Colorado, Utah, Delaware, and South Africa visited New Jersey to learn about our Children's System of Care.  They came to learn from our operation and possibly implement it for their citizens.

Officials from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services sought our guidance to develop a child welfare information management system.  They also visited our Professional Center in New Brunswick to learn about our training program.

Government officials from Puerto Rico also visited us to learn about our child welfare information management system and sought information about our Family Success Centers.

Representatives from New York City visited our state-of-the-art training facility and are now replicating our model.  They also visited several of our Family Success Centers so that they can develop their own.

The Northern Ireland-based Family and Community Engagement project is also interested in our Family Success Centers.  This grassroots project is working with the British Services community to integrate families within larger society.  We met with group officials in New York, and several months later they visited one of our Family Success Centers where they met with families and staff members.

Our Family Success Centers have even attracted the attention of the Global Peace Foundation, an international nonprofit organization that promotes peacebuilding.  The group believes our Family Success Center model is consistent with their mission and principles and hopes to work with us in the future.

These countries, states, and territories - by investing time, resources, and effort to visit us - are tacitly endorsing our work and acknowledging our stature among the nation's - if not the world's - child welfare agencies.

Over the past 10 years, New Jersey has built a solid foundation to its child welfare system.  We improved caseloads and training, we implemented a case practice model, and we expanded our network of resource families, providing children loving homes when they cannot remain with their biological families.  These services and systems would not have been possible without first building a foundation for a sound and healthy child welfare system.

Your Honor, thanks to the hard work and commitment of our dedicated staff, we find ourselves with a vastly different child-welfare system today than when this lawsuit was filed.  In recognition of that fact, we have worked closely with Plaintiffs and the Monitor for the last several months to replace the Modified Settlement Agreement with a new Sustainability and Exit Plan that will guide our work toward what everyone expects will be an expedient exit from court supervision.

The Exit Plan emphasizes improved quality outcomes for children involved in the child welfare system.

It is a plan that recognizes our staff's remarkable and speedy achievements.

It is a plan that will enable us to bring a laser-like focus on a few remaining challenges, which I believe we will overcome quickly.

The Exit Plan includes the same general principles from the Modified Settlement Agreement regarding things like child protection and child placement.  These principles continue to reflect our child welfare reform effort's goals and guide our work.

The Exit Plan then adds a new section, "Foundational Elements," that acknowledges the ways our child welfare reform has been so successful and reflects the fact that these foundational elements are ingrained so deeply into our culture and practice that they no longer need regular Monitor oversight.  They are now part of who we are as a department.

The Exit Plan's final two sections are measures "To Be Maintained" and "To Be Achieved."  These categories will guide our work and fix our focus on areas that need further attention while identifying the path to eventual exit from federal-court oversight.

Informed by New Jersey and national child welfare data, the Exit Plan's measures and targets are ambitious but achievable.

In places, the measures are highly technical.  This reflects how far the department has come in collecting and interpreting data.  It also reflects how sophisticated the science behind child welfare has become.

We want to thank you, your Honor, for your support.

We thank the Federal Monitor, Judith Meltzer, for her leadership and guidance.

We thank the Plaintiffs for their desire and willingness to craft this plan, a blueprint for the successes we plan to achieve.

We thank our staff, for their tireless dedication and work on behalf of New Jersey's children.

And we thank Governor Christie for his ongoing support and commitment to the Department's reform effort and serving our State's most vulnerable citizens.

This Exit Plan represents the culmination of years of hard work and the start of an exciting era for New Jersey's children.  It is exciting because the Plan defines achievement in terms of successful outcomes for children and families.  And that, your Honor, is what's truly important.

Thank you, your Honor.


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