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Good morning, your honor.

I’m pleased to report that for the six months covering monitoring period eighteen, we have continued to maintain compliance with the Exit Plan’s foundational elements.  We have also remained compliant with the measures identified for maintenance at the time the Exit Plan was signed.

But I’m especially pleased to report that we have fulfilled six more requirements.

Altogether, seventy-three percent of the Exit Plan’s fifty-nine requirements are now categorized as either Foundational Elements or “To Be Maintained."

Our staff has done, and continues to do, an outstanding job serving our children and families.  Thanks to their work and commitment we are nearing a time when the “To Be Achieved” category will be empty.

Your honor, there is an aspect to today’s report that is very meaningful.

Four of the requirements we fulfilled in this report – and one with which we have substantially complied – pertain to our work at the earliest stages of a family’s involvement with the child welfare system.

The four requirements are completing investigations within sixty days, completing initial case plans within thirty days, average intake worker caseload per local office, and individual intake worker caseload.

The fifth and very nearly fulfilled requirement is investigation quality.

By fulfilling these four requirements and being on the brink of fulfilling the fifth, we have reached a milestone.

The Exit Plan’s twelve requirements covering the entire front-end of our child welfare system – with the only exception being investigation quality – are now in the “To Be Maintained” category.

By itself, this is an important achievement.  But what is significant is how “getting it right early” – achieving all the measures at the early stage of a family’s involvement with us – will influence performance at later stages.  “Getting it right early” builds a strong foundation for our families’ strength and resilience.

This is the first time we have met the requirement for either average intake worker caseload per local office or individual intake worker caseload.

As the monitor’s report notes, “The Department has targeted stabilizing intake caseloads as a high priority for a long time and the achievement of this milestone demonstrates solid management and practices at the intake level.”

Another first is meeting the requirement for timeliness of investigation completion.

Investigating child abuse and neglect is complex and challenging.  Many families struggle with co-occurring issues such as domestic violence, substance use disorder, and mental illness.  Sometimes families are evasive or uncooperative with our investigators.  Getting medical reports is another challenge.  These things complicate and delay investigations.

Our intake staff has successfully overcome these obstacles, reaching a new level of performance.

Initial case plans establish the goal of a child’s involvement with the child welfare system.  Initial case plans outline the role of every one helping the child and the services our department will provide the child and family.

Developing initial case plans can be a struggle.  Plan development needs the active participation of a child’s parents, and some parents are not ready to engage.  Some parents with substance use disorder or mental health issues don’t recognize how their struggles impair their ability to parent.

Once more, our staff refused to allow obstacles to come between them and their obligation to our vulnerable children and families.

Like investigation timeliness, investigation quality has also improved.  It improved significantly – by five percentage points – and is now within the margin of error, marking our substantial compliance with this measure.

Your honor, these five measures are a harbinger.  The success we’ve achieved here, I believe, will hasten progress on the Exit Plan’s remaining requirements.

We also met two other requirements this period: the requirements for subsequent Family Team Meetings after 12 months and for adoption caseload.

By meeting the adoption caseload requirement, we reached another milestone this monitoring period: we have now fulfilled every caseload measure in the Exit Plan.

Our managers closely monitor and actively adjust caseloads to ensure they’re appropriate and efficient.

For caseworkers, this means the days of unmanageable and morale deflating caseloads are over.  For children and families, it means they receive the time, attention, and services they need to overcome their struggles and chart a course toward living successful and happy lives.

I want to acknowledge our intake workers, their supervisors, as well as our adoption and permanency staff.  They are the heroes of this period’s report.  Without them, reaching these two milestones during this one reporting period would not have been possible.  They work face-to-face with families and ensure children are safe and protected.  They are vital to our child welfare system, and we are thankful for their work and proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Beyond the achievements reflected in today’s report, there are other areas that point to our continued progress.  These areas include our kinship caregivers, our adoption work, the New Jersey Child Welfare Data Hub, and our dedicated workforce.

While a large majority of the children we serve live in their own homes and with their families, some children need to live elsewhere, either temporarily or, if necessary, permanently through adoption.  Removing a child from their home is done for their safety, but it’s traumatic for them.  Thankfully, we’ve made great progress lessening the severity and likelihood of trauma by embracing kinship caregivers.

Kinship caregivers are grandparents, relatives, and family friends with established connections to the child’s family.  They offer children a safe, reassuring, and comforting environment during a difficult time.

And research suggests children placed with a kinship caregiver are less likely to experience repeat maltreatment when reunited with their family.

Nearly half of children currently living in resource homes are benefitting from kinship care.  Kinship homes are central to helping ensure the first placement we make for a child is the best placement for that child.

Kinship care not only provides children a temporary home, but also a permanent and stable home when reunification is not possible.

Our Office of Adoption Operations and all of our local offices strive to make the transition to adoption as smooth as possible for children.  Key to this is ensuring children are in a committed home before parental rights are terminated.  This is where our adoption team has excelled.

A study we conducted of our adoption work revealed eighty-eight percent of children with an adoption goal were already placed with a family that wanted to adopt them by the time parental rights were terminated.  This is an important achievement that provides children a stable and loving environment from the moment they enter foster care and through to adoption.

To make child welfare system data more available to the public, the department and the Rutgers School of Social Work together launched phase two of the New Jersey Child Welfare Data Hub in November.

Site users can produce custom charts, graphs, and other visuals of child welfare data.

The Data Hub furthers our commitment to performance accountability and transparency.  Combined with our previous efforts to make more information available to the public, the continued development of the Data Hub is an unheard of level of child welfare data disclosure.  Future updates will raise the level even higher.

New Jersey continues to benefit from a dedicated and well-trained child welfare workforce.

The Rutgers School of Social Work last year determined that our caseload-carrying staff turnover rate was seven and a quarter percent, far below the twenty to forty percent national average.

But this year’s report found the rate was even lower, moving to below seven percent.

Rutgers reported we support “specialized child welfare educational programs for both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students,” that the race and ethnicity of child welfare staff generally reflect the children we serve, and that our staff continues “to report high levels of satisfaction” with our training program.

Again, your honor, I can’t say enough how proud we are of our team, how proud we are of our achievement this monitoring period, and how eager we are to making continued progress as we move forward.

Thank you, your honor.

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