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Marina
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New Jersey System

Postby Marina » Tue Aug 21, 2007 7:58 pm

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http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qst ... FlZUVFeXky

Critics ask if new agency is as open as it could be

Tuesday, August 21, 2007



As the state's first child advocate, Kevin Ryan was known for pushing for more openness in New Jersey's child welfare system.

But now that he's the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, critics wonder where that spirit went.


Tom Blatner, a former director of the Division of Youth and Family Services, said that in more than 30 years of working in the child welfare field, he has never seen a group so sensitive about the dissemination of information.

"Child deaths, incidents of severe injury – that kind of stuff used to be much more transparent," Blatner said. "I think there's much more control of information [now] which I don't think is healthy."

Ryan disagreed, saying his department has released an unprecedented amount of data, including quarterly updates on certain statistics.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said the state appears to be releasing more child-welfare data now than under previous administrations.

E. Susan Hodgson, who stepped into the child advocate position after Ryan, said that while DCF has done well in meeting some goals, she has had difficulty obtaining data that she, as the state's child advocate, is entitled to.

For example, she said, the child advocate is mandated by law to review certain types of child deaths. But she has been unable to receive complete DCF records of fatalities that are more than a year old.

"It has been difficult to get the data we need in order to do some of the kinds of reviews that were mandated," said Hodgson, who has not resorted to subpoenas or other legal action to obtain the information. "But as we look forward, we're really going to have to work with DCF to help them develop their systems ... so that we really can make sure that systems are improving for children."

Ryan said that his office had provided the Child Advocate's Office with more than 60,000 pages of documents, many of which were apparently lost prior to Hodgson's joining the office.

Since then, Ryan said, he has asked the state Attorney General's Office to help verify the delivery of requested documents to the Child Advocate's Office.

Tiffany Ellis, chief of staff for the Child Advocate's Office, said that it is hard for anyone to say what happened to documents that may have been delivered to the office during the gap between Ryan and Hodgson.

The decision to involve the Attorney General's Office in the transfer of documents was mutual, Ellis said.

"Certainly we want to ensure we are receiving those in a timely and accurate fashion and that they're comfortable with a process that they're not burdened to the point they can't get their work done," she said.

There has been other evidence of tension between the two offices as well. Given that Hodgson's job is to serve as an independent watchdog of DCF, some outsiders were surprised when the department filed conflict-of-interest charges against Hodgson, claiming that she lobbied for public funds on behalf of a child-abuse treatment center operated by Hodgson's former employer.

Hodgson has said that she never lobbied specifically for her former employer, but that in her role as child advocate, she has tried to improve services for abused and neglected children.

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Postby Marina » Tue Oct 23, 2007 7:50 pm

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http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf ... xml&coll=1

Child agency resumes public disclosure

Saturday, October 13, 2007
BY SUSAN K. LIVIO

Star-Ledger Staff

The child welfare system will resume disclosing details of a family's history when a child dies from abuse and neglect, top state officials announced yesterday, ending a five-week dispute that delayed release of a report on the deaths of three children.

State officials believed a Sept. 5 memo and other communications from the federal government put new restrictions on a landmark federal law requiring child welfare systems to reveal prior involvement with families after a child dies from maltreatment.

An official from the U.S. Administration for Children and Families said in an interview with The Star-Ledger that a follow-up letter gave the state a green light to release information as it always had. But officials from the N.J. Department of Children and Families said this week they were awaiting advice from the state Attorney General's Office, which said it needed time to review the matter.

It was resolved after a telephone call yesterday between the two state agencies and the Office of the Child Advocate, which delayed releasing a report on the state's involvement with three children killed last year.

"We feel more comfortable, having done more study and investigation, saying that New Jersey could continue to report information as they have in the past," said Robert Gilson, director of the Division of Law. "We support the goal of allowing transparency in these tragic situations, balanced with guarding the confidentiality of people who are not directly involved."

New Jersey officials feared the state could be sanctioned for disclosing too much information under the law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which provides New Jersey with $2.1 million.

"The conclusion was we all agree these details are relevant to the cases, and we will continue to release them," said Tiffany Ellis, chief of staff for Child Advocate E. Susan Hodgson, said after the meeting. The advocate's report will be released Oct. 24.

Children and Families Commissioner Kevin Ryan said he agreed with the outcome of yesterday's meeting and affirmed support of the federal law. "Public disclosure has been critical to mobilizing public support for child welfare reform in New Jersey," he said.

Ryan's office immediately released the DYFS family history of Zaheera Williams, 2, who died Monday after swallowing pills belonging to her guardian and great-grandmother, Alma Williams, 61.

Zaheera's mother was the focus of a DYFS inquiry, according to state records. DYFS investigated her for neglect and medical neglect, and both times determined the claims to be unfounded and the mother was sent to parenting classes.

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Marina
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Postby Marina » Fri Dec 07, 2007 10:21 am

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http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/in ... xml&coll=1

Upset by foster child's OD, panel grills DYFS officials

Members demand rules be tightened for homes and care-givers

Friday, December 07, 2007
BY SUSAN K. LIVIO
Star-Ledger Staff

Appalled by the fatal overdose of a toddler in a foster home last year, members of the Assembly Human Services Committee yesterday demanded that child welfare officials raise the bar for who can be a foster parent.

The committee reviewed a report by the Office of the Child Advocate detailing the death of Xavier Jones, a 21-month-old boy who died June 7, 2006, after swallowing a bottle of methadone left by his foster mother's adult daughter.


The committee asked how the foster parent continued to be relicensed after admitting that her adult daughter, who spent a lot of time in the East Orange home, was a recovering addict.

"The foster parent was straight up -- her daughter was on methadone. That's a disqualifier," said committee Chairman Joseph Cryan (D-Union). "Right now it's a judgment call."

Unless the state Division of Youth and Family Services immediately changes its policy, Cryan said the committee will draft legislation to do so.

"If we asked the vast majority of New Jerseyans whether it was okay to place a foster child with someone living with a drug user in recovery, the answer would be no," Cryan said.

Assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) said she was "very troubled" by the case and asked Child Advocate E. Susan Hodgson if licensing rules were too lax.

"We have really good, really rigorous licensing procedures," Hodgson said. "What is needed is vigilant case practice once children are placed in resource homes," a term New Jersey uses to describe foster and adoptive parents.

"Addiction is a terrible problem. She was addressing the problem. There should have been better oversight of who was providing care in that home," she added.

The child advocate's report found DYFS refused to license the home unless the daughter moved out, which she did in 2004. But in June 2006, the report said, "Investigative reports suggest that this biological daughter and her 9-year-old son were frequenting the resource home and perhaps living in the home."

Kevin Ryan, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, DYFS' parent agency, left the hearing before the discussion. Spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes said DYFS shared concerns about the daughter and took action. "We ordered her to leave and she did," Cervantes said.

Cryan said he was frustrated with both DYFS and the child advocate, whom he pressed to say whether her office was getting enough information and cooperation from Ryan's team. "This advocate needs to be more assertive in her role -- less concerned about data and more concerned about advocacy," Cryan said.

Hodgson issued a response: "We are taking a hard look at the progress of child welfare reform in the state, but have been hampered by lack of cooperation from the Department in some key areas including access to essential information.

"I am committed to strongly advocating on behalf of New Jersey's children to improve their safety, health and well-being. The cooperation of the Department and the support of the Legislature is invaluable to me in this goal."

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Marina
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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 8:55 pm

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http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20080 ... _care.html
Posted on Wed, Jan. 2, 2008


Reuniting after foster care
N.J. agencies support children and parents getting back together - and celebrate success.
By Angela Delli Santi

Associated Press

Danielle Maslow watched her 8-year-old son slowly sound out the words in a puzzle book he had just been given at a party in Glassboro thrown by an agency that helps struggling families get back together.
It was a simple pleasure, watching Jamie play and learn, but one Maslow missed for 18 months while the two were separated and the boy was in foster care because of Maslow's drug addiction.

"Last year at this time, I was homeless and I didn't have my son - I had nothing," said Maslow, who now lives with her son and fiance in Haddon Heights, is expecting a baby girl in February, and has been off crack cocaine for 15 months. "We're a family now."

Jamie, a third grader in special education in Mount Holly, is among 7,737 children who left foster care in 2006, the majority of whom returned home, according to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. Children who enter foster care at his age typically spend about 11 months in out-of-home placements; they are most often removed from their homes because of neglect.

In the Maslow case, Danielle called the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) herself, asking the agency to place Jamie in foster care after she relapsed into serious drug abuse.

With no home of her own, she crashed on her brother's couch while waiting for a spot to open up in a rehab facility. She spent the next year getting clean and proving to DYFS that she could be trusted again with her own child.

Unlike those who think DYFS rips families apart, Maslow is convinced that in the long run, the agency kept hers together.

She found support through Robins' Nest, a Glassboro-based social services agency contracted by the Department of Children and Families to help reunite families separated because of neglect or abuse.

"Reunification will always be the goal as long as it's possible," said Kate Bernyk, a spokeswoman for Children and Families. The agency co-hosted "Home for the Holidays" parties in Glassboro and South Orange attended by 42 families reunited this year.

Children and Families pays agencies like Robins' Nest and Family Connections in Essex County to provide pre- and post-reunification services to children and parents. Those services include parenting classes, counseling and supervised visits; making sure children have pediatricians and medical insurance; linking parents to services such as welfare, food stamps and Medicaid; and ensuring adequate housing.

"We move from fully supervised visits to partially supervised visits to overnights and weekends," said Marlene Seamans-Conn, program director of Family Ties, a component of Robins' Nest. "We gradually shift the parenting responsibilities back to the parent. It's a nice transition over the course of several months, with the goal being total unification."

Family Connections maintains a remodeled house, Reunity House in South Orange, where parents and children can interact in a home setting during supervised visits while the children are still in foster care, said Jennifer Kerr, who manages the house.

Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Association for Children of New Jersey, a children's advocacy group, applauds the use of independent community agencies to help support struggling families.

"I think it is very difficult for DYFS to be a policing agency and a family-support agency," she said. "These programs have had great success in engaging families in services they need to get their children back, and provide an important source of support afterward."

Robins' Nest and Family Connections maintain contact with families long after the state decides they can be reunited. Weekly home visits continue for months afterward before tapering off to telephone contact. Kerr said Family Connections stays in contact with its clients for "at least a year" after reunification.

The families at the parties were testimony to the success such reunification programs can have.

"This sends out a powerful message," Seamans-Conn said, "that parents really can reconnect with their children if they work hard on their issues."

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Marina
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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 01, 2008 6:57 pm

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http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/20 ... _care.html

Posted on Wed, Jan. 2, 2008


Reuniting after foster care

N.J. agencies support children and parents getting back together - and celebrate success.
By Angela Delli Santi

Associated Press

Danielle Maslow watched her 8-year-old son slowly sound out the words in a puzzle book he had just been given at a party in Glassboro thrown by an agency that helps struggling families get back together.
It was a simple pleasure, watching Jamie play and learn, but one Maslow missed for 18 months while the two were separated and the boy was in foster care because of Maslow's drug addiction.

"Last year at this time, I was homeless and I didn't have my son - I had nothing," said Maslow, who now lives with her son and fiance in Haddon Heights, is expecting a baby girl in February, and has been off crack cocaine for 15 months. "We're a family now."

Jamie, a third grader in special education in Mount Holly, is among 7,737 children who left foster care in 2006, the majority of whom returned home, according to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. Children who enter foster care at his age typically spend about 11 months in out-of-home placements; they are most often removed from their homes because of neglect.

In the Maslow case, Danielle called the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) herself, asking the agency to place Jamie in foster care after she relapsed into serious drug abuse.

With no home of her own, she crashed on her brother's couch while waiting for a spot to open up in a rehab facility. She spent the next year getting clean and proving to DYFS that she could be trusted again with her own child.

Unlike those who think DYFS rips families apart, Maslow is convinced that in the long run, the agency kept hers together.

She found support through Robins' Nest, a Glassboro-based social services agency contracted by the Department of Children and Families to help reunite families separated because of neglect or abuse.

"Reunification will always be the goal as long as it's possible," said Kate Bernyk, a spokeswoman for Children and Families. The agency co-hosted "Home for the Holidays" parties in Glassboro and South Orange attended by 42 families reunited this year.

Children and Families pays agencies like Robins' Nest and Family Connections in Essex County to provide pre- and post-reunification services to children and parents. Those services include parenting classes, counseling and supervised visits; making sure children have pediatricians and medical insurance; linking parents to services such as welfare, food stamps and Medicaid; and ensuring adequate housing.

"We move from fully supervised visits to partially supervised visits to overnights and weekends," said Marlene Seamans-Conn, program director of Family Ties, a component of Robins' Nest. "We gradually shift the parenting responsibilities back to the parent. It's a nice transition over the course of several months, with the goal being total unification."

Family Connections maintains a remodeled house, Reunity House in South Orange, where parents and children can interact in a home setting during supervised visits while the children are still in foster care, said Jennifer Kerr, who manages the house.

Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Association for Children of New Jersey, a children's advocacy group, applauds the use of independent community agencies to help support struggling families.

"I think it is very difficult for DYFS to be a policing agency and a family-support agency," she said. "These programs have had great success in engaging families in services they need to get their children back, and provide an important source of support afterward."

Robins' Nest and Family Connections maintain contact with families long after the state decides they can be reunited. Weekly home visits continue for months afterward before tapering off to telephone contact. Kerr said Family Connections stays in contact with its clients for "at least a year" after reunification.

The families at the parties were testimony to the success such reunification programs can have.

"This sends out a powerful message," Seamans-Conn said, "that parents really can reconnect with their children if they work hard on their issues."

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Marina
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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 07, 2008 6:28 pm

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2008/0 ... aints.html

Real-Time News
New Jersey news 24 hours, every day
TODAY IN NEW JERSEY

Advocates question drop in child-abuse complaints

by Susan K. Livio/The Star-Ledger
Tuesday September 02, 2008, 5:00 AM

The percentage of proven child abuse and neglect cases in foster homes, schools, day care centers and other group settings fell to an all-time low last year, but state officials and child advocates are not sure if that is good news.

The state unit that pursues allegations of harm to children that occurs outside their family homes corroborated 3 percent of allegations last year -- a sharp drop from just two years earlier, when it proved 11.4 percent. The unit has received an average of 3,200 complaints a year.

The rates first slipped in 2006, after the state tightened rules on how the Institutional Abuse Investigations Unit determines whether an allegation of harm to children has merit.

State officials say the ongoing $1 billion overhaul of the child welfare system has produced safer foster homes and a policy to rely less on detention centers and shelters.

But child advocates worry that the percentages are lower because allegations aren't getting the attention they deserve -- and that this could force children to spend all or part of their days in dangerous places.

"Maybe they have set the bar high, to where it's possible they are screening out cases," said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Association for Children of New Jersey.

Zalkind said the state owes it to these children -- particularly the 9,700 kids the state removed from their families and put in foster care -- to quickly figure out what's going on. "They ... require a higher standard of safety," Zalkind said.

Kate Bernyk, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, said top officials are aware of the trend and are watching it closely. "This is a matter that has the attention of the commissioner," she said.

Acting Child Advocate Ronald Chen said his staff is conducting an analysis of the unit and the rule changes. The report is due this fall.

In a July report about the state's child abuse hotline, the federal court monitor overseeing the state's reforms uncovered some concerns about the unit.

When a tipster called to complain that the manager of a children's residential program refused to replace mattresses infested with bedbugs, the hotline worker and a unit supervisor sent the call to the licensing inspector's office instead of opening an investigation into possible neglect. The monitor called that a mistake.

Hotline workers in a focus group also told the monitor that some staffers in the unit prefer to be consulted before a complaint reaches them so they can challenge it and "request the report to be downgraded," according to the report by monitor Judith Meltzer of the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

"One of the issues that got raised in that report is whether everything that should be going to (the unit) is," Meltzer said.

Her latest reform report card applauded the unit for completing the majority of its investigations within the state standard of 60 days. The next report will focus on its performance.

The unit was a prime target of a class-action lawsuit, filed by the national advocacy group Children's Rights of New York, that eventually prompted the widespread reform of the child welfare system.

A professor hired by the group found "professionally unreasonable" decision-making allowed children to remain in potentially harmful places. In 2003, Children's Rights called a "substantiation rate" of 12 percent troublingly low.

Meltzer admits she doesn't know what to make of the plummeting rate of confirmed abuse cases. "It could mean four years ago, they were inappropriately substantiating more cases than they should have been. Maybe they got it right now," she said.

Jesse Moskowitz, retired assistant director of the Division of Youth and Family Services, disagrees. In his 18 years at DYFS during the 1980s and 1990s, the substantiation rate held steady at 10 to 12 percent a year.

"They didn't change the definition of a substantiated case, so the substantiation rate should be the same," said Moskowitz.

Bernyk said several key rule changes -- and reducing how many cases are assigned to each investigator -- had an impact on the rates.

"Giving them a manageable caseload and giving them a clear definition of what they are investigating -- all that goes into the equation," she said.

Children and Families spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes said investigators now look at the entire file when they reach a finding. "This includes ... evidence as well as the history, including unfounded allegations of the alleged perpetrator and the facility," she said.

In 2005, the child welfare agency said investigators could only determine whether an allegation was substantiated or unfounded. Before that, if they found evidence that something was amiss, but not enough to prove harm, it could be deemed "unsubstantiated with concerns."

"People were afraid to make a decision one way or another," said Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children's Rights. "We wanted them to do an investigation until they can say yes or no."

Moskowitz, however, said giving investigators an option of saying they had concerns gave them a reason to follow up on a case. "That seems to be lost right now," he said.

Bernyk said the unit now sends more complaints to licensing inspectors who can work with foster homes, group homes or day care centers to correct problems.

"Before, investigators were likely to substantiate (an allegation) for some matters like a filthy home that didn't rise to the level of abuse or neglect," Bernyk said.

The state also added a layer of supervisors to double-check findings when a case is substantiated. This was done, Bernyk said, because many cases were overturned on appeal for lack of evidence.

Zalkind said she's troubled by the state's decision to assign a supervisory team to examine only cases in which investigators concluded that the allegation was true.

"You are having a team second-guess what the investigator's recommendation was?" she said. "Unless the team is going out to the site of the investigation, I have some concerns about that."

Marina
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Postby Marina » Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:34 pm

http://www.courierpostonline.com/articl ... 1006/rss01

Missteps by state's Department of Children and Families

Gannett State Bureau • December 19, 2008

TRENTON — Details from the four cases where state Department of Children and Families investigators inaccurately deemed abuse or neglect allegations unfounded, according to the Office of the Child Advocate report:


A 17-year-old resident of a group home was left at a Newark train station with enough money to buy a ticket to Camden, where his family lived. The facility had been unable to arrange transportation with family members, didn't tell the child's family or DYFS caseworker about the discharge, then didn't follow up to make sure he'd made it home. When asked about it by screeners, program administrators falsely claimed he'd run away and that they'd reported him missing to police.

A 17-year-old in a residential treatment facility reportedly had his head pushed into a wall multiple times by staff while being restrained, suffering bruises and head swelling. Other residents said the staff member instigated the incident.

A 17-year-old girl with chronic asthma living in a group home had an asthma attack one evening and couldn't find her inhaler or medication. She tried calling 911, only to find the phones broken and no staff in the home. She left the group home and found help at a nearby group home for boys.

After reports about drug use by a parent and deplorable living conditions, children in a foster home were removed by court order and haven't returned. But an investigator found the allegations unfounded, despite evidence to the contrary.

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Postby Marina » Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:39 pm

http://www.app.com/article/20081219/NEW ... /1001/NEWS

State better at investigating child abuse

By MICHAEL SYMONS • GANNETT STATE BUREAU • December 19, 2008



TRENTON — Child-welfare workers are getting better at investigating child-abuse allegations in out-of-home settings, though there are still inconsistencies in how information is gathered and cases where apparent abuse wasn't flagged, says a report issued Thursday by the state Office of the Child Advocate.

In one of those cases, a 17-year-old was discharged from a Newark youth home with enough money to catch a train home to Camden, where his family hadn't even been told he had been released. Administrators later falsely claimed he'd run away.

The 33-page report recaps the agency's analysis of 90 investigations done in the first half of 2007 by the Department of Children and Families of abuse cases in resource homes, group homes, residential treatment centers and juvenile detention centers.

The review found DCF investigators' findings were consistent with state law in 82 cases but inconsistent in eight others. Investigations were timely or delayed for good reason, such as a criminal investigation, in 85 percent of the cases.

But problems still existed.

In four cases, abuse occurred but wasn't detected, and in four others there wasn't enough information on file to assess a case. In nearly one-third of allegations deemed unfounded, corrective allegations were recommended anyway, nearly all having to do with a child's safety or well-being. Those cases included concerns about apparent corporal punishment, failure to supervise kids at a swimming pool, delaying medical care for three days after a girl significantly burned her hands and weight loss.

In nearly half of alleged abuse cases, not all of a resource home's adult residents were interviewed. And no documentation can show whether required private and separate interviews were done with 61 percent of alleged child victims.

"Although the review team agreed, in the vast majority of cases, that the findings were consistent with New Jersey law, those determinations were based on information available in the files. It is impossible to know whether different conclusions would have been reached had all relevant information been gathered in each case," the report said. "A thorough investigation is critical in safeguarding children and must be conducted in every case. Otherwise, crucial information can be overlooked that could dictate a different course of action to determine whether a child is safe."

Investigations must be done more quickly as part of the state's compliance with a consent decree in a federal lawsuit against the state's child-welfare system, and the report says the state is exceeding those goals.

Spokeswoman Kate Berynk said the Department of Children and Families "is extremely encouraged by the positive results" of the study and said an internal review of the investigation unit began in September and will be complete in early 2009.


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