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Good morning your honor.

Before offering my testimony, I'd like to note the members of our team here today, many of them for the first time.  Our executive staff ordinarily attends these hearings, but today we have our area directors from across the state.

By viewing the hearing and listening to its testimony and comments, I believe our area directors will learn more about the MSA process and have an even greater appreciation for how our data-driven, evidence-informed approach guides our department.

They'll be able to share their experience and reemphasize the importance of the department's work with local office staff.  I do appreciate them traveling to be here today.

The Monitor's report shows our department is not only improving performance and reaching MSA benchmarks, but we're sustaining achievements from previous reporting periods.  This is the mark of an organization committed to continuous quality improvement, self-assessment, and self-correction.

In its findings the report tacitly acknowledges that we are little like the organization that entered the MSA nine years ago.  We have made and sustained improvements to infrastructure and service delivery, and, more importantly, outcomes for children, youth and families.

This achievement points to a fundamental and organization-wide change in how we view and conduct our work; a change due in large part to our department's adoption of data-driven, evidence-informed strategies and services.

Data and the science behind it now informs the direction of our entire system, enabling us to make smarter and more effective decisions that maximize outcomes for children, youth and families.

By collecting and analyzing data generated by our work and about the public we serve, we are better and more closely monitoring performance.  More importantly, we're using what we learn, in the context of the evidence informing child welfare practice nationally, to enhance and adjust our services and interactions with those we serve.

Few things better demonstrate the value of data, and how we have learned to incorporate the science, than the contributions of our Data Fellows.

Our Data Fellows are DCF staff members who, in addition to their regular day-to-day obligations, are attending seminars, participating in group projects, and independently studying how to interpret and use social sciences data to inform system improvements. I'd like to share an example of this work with you because it has cascading effects across our department.

Analyzing data we collected, our Fellows developed greater insight about the families we serve.  This discovery informed important and impactful changes to our services.

Looking at data for more than twenty-five thousand cases, the Fellows found the great majority of families - seventy-five percent - do not again become involved with the child welfare system.  The Fellows also found nine percent fall into a category of frequently encountered families.  These families entered the child welfare system three or more times within a twelve month period.

The Fellows found that among these frequently encountered families, substance use disorder was a strong common characteristic.

We responded by investing $1.8 million to expand the Mommy and Me program.  This program helps keep families together by allowing parents to live with their children during drug treatment and addiction recovery.  The evidence shows that by living with their child, parents are more likely to complete their treatment, abstain from substance use, and have higher self-esteem and fewer problems with depression.

The Fellows also found housing instability is another common characteristic among frequently encountered families.

We responded by partnering with the Department of Human Services to create a Keeping Families Together program in Essex County.  This evidence-informed program provides supportive housing for child welfare involved families confronting homelessness and diagnosed with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders.  The program seeks to support family reunification and prevent family separation and homelessness while promoting recovery and positive family functioning.

Evidence from a pilot program in New York City showed promising results, with 90% of families remaining intact in their homes.

Initial results from the Essex County program have been encouraging and we're exploring public and private collaborations on similar future projects.

The Fellows program and ChildStat identified a need for a Family Success Center in northern Passaic County.  We have Family Success Centers in every county, but we discovered that public transportation availability and distance made it difficult for many northern Passaic County residents to visit Paterson.

We responded by issuing an RFP for a new Family Success Center in northern Passaic County.  We look forward to opening the new center soon.

Family Success Centers have proven to be an invaluable asset to families and communities.  They offer convenient access to services and helps families develop skills and knowledge to raise healthy children and build strong communities.

The data we collect, analyze, and use in our decision making aren't strictly numbers.  We regularly solicit and receive qualitative input from our constituents.  This feedback led to several changes and enhancements in how we fund and provide services.

For years, resource families received subsidy and board payments via mailed paper checks.  Informed by a Rutgers School of Social Work survey of our resource families, we now provide these subsidies and payments via direct deposit or debit card.  Electronic payments are more secure, reliable, and convenient than mailed paper checks.  During Superstorm Sandy, the post office was unable to deliver mail in many neighborhoods and many families were displaced from their homes, making it difficult for them to get their mailed paper check.

We regularly conduct assessments to determine if we're adequately addressing the needs of our children and families.  One such assessment identified a need among older youth for a financial literacy education program.

We responded by seeking and receiving a $350,000 US Department of the Treasury grant to develop and evaluate a mobile app to help these older youth with budgeting and financial decisions.

The grant also includes evaluating debit cards as a means of distributing an Independent Living Stipend to eligible older youth who have been approved to live in a semi-supervised program or on their own.

We'll measure the app's effectiveness and the extent to which youth use the debit card's features to manage financial transactions, save, and budget.

Separate from our use of data in guiding our work, I'm pleased to report that we expect to soon reach a milestone in our efforts to bring home children receiving behavioral health services out-of-state.  By next week we will no longer have any youth placed in an out-of-state facility for behavioral health care.

For the last few years several children with hearing and behavioral health needs were receiving treatment out-of-state.  Thanks to a partnership between our department and the Department of Education, we created a new program at the New Jersey School for the Deaf on the Katzenbach Campus to serve these children.

We are grateful to the Department of Education and the Saint Joseph's Specialty Program at Katzenbach for their cooperation.  We're especially grateful to soon have all our children back home.

Your honor, I am very proud of our department and our entire staff for their work and commitment to the success of our children, youth and families.  Today's report, and our use of data to guide our work, I believe, offers proof that we are a new organization prepared for the current and future needs of our state.

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