Turning Points testifies before Philadelphia City Council

on 05 May 2016

                                                                                                                              

TESTIMONY                                                                                                                          

of David R. Fair, Deputy Chief Executive Officer           

Turning Points for Children                                                                                                         

May 4, 2016

_______________________________________

 

Good afternoon. I am testifying today to strongly encourage City Council to support the budget proposed by Mayor Kenney for the Department of Human Services. I also request that this budget be amended to include $28.1 million in additional funds to support the thousands of children in the care of Philadelphia’s child welfare system.

About one-third of this budget, or $220 million, is invested in over 50 community organizations implementing the DHS Improving Outcomes for Children (IOC) initiative.  Through IOC, Philadelphia children who are at risk for or who have been subjected to abuse or neglect, and their families, are supported in addressing family challenges and achieving the goal of a healthy, safe and permanent home for each child.

Among those receiving these funds are over 40 community foster care agencies as well as 10 Community Umbrella Agencies (or CUAs) supporting over 13,000 children. While there have been many implementation challenges in the first three years of IOC, largely having to do with a 50% increase in the number of children in foster care and largely static funding from the Commonwealth, the bottom line is that the IOC initiative is achieving results that are as good or better than what was being achieved under the old model. These results include an increasing rate of reunifications and adoptions, improved rates of placing children with relative caregivers rather than strangers, keeping children in their own neighborhoods, keeping siblings together, and reducing congregate care – each a critical measure of a successful child welfare system.

It’s important to remember that IOC was adopted in order to fix a broken system. There was and is a consensus that the old ways were not, in fact, adequately protecting the safety of Philadelphia’s children; that they were not, in fact, adequately assuring their well-being; that they were not, in fact, doing a good job of helping children find safety and permanency with their own families or in an adoptive home. And that was all when we had a system serving only 4000 children in foster care; today, that number is over 6000.

IOC has not worked perfectly by any means, leading to many expressions of concern about the future from IOC supporters and opponents alike. But we are moving forward, achieving increasing numbers of permanencies and showing that by almost every system measure, child welfare services based in the community rather than in downtown offices make the most sense for children and families.

It is only now that all of the cases at DHS have been transferred to the Community Umbrella Agencies, meaning that it is only now that IOC can truly be held accountable for the reform that was originally intended.  But to truly implement the model as originally designed will require courageous leadership and more financial resources. This is needed to help us return to the original goals of IOC and the original program design on which IOC was based. Unfortunately, we have strayed from that original design in important ways.

Today, the system and its children are overwhelmed. Caseloads for social workers that should be at 8 families (or 16 children) are more likely at 14 and 15 families (with 32 to 35 children). These caseloads are untenable and risky, and are the primary reason why the true promise of IOC has not yet been realized. We ask Council to fully fund IOC so that the caseloads can be reduced. Lower caseloads will also result in increased permanencies, finally reducing the number of children in care.

IOC was also originally designed to be heavily dependent on data – that is, to use a 21st Century system to track our effectiveness broadly as well as down to the individual child so that we would at all times know where children were, whether those children were being appropriately served, and where those children were on the path to permanency. Using data to assure quality was an essential component of the IOC design – but unfortunately, we are still operating with 20th Century technology and virtually no ability to quickly access data to measure our progress.

DHS is to be commended for its hard work in addressing this problem. Additional funds would be able to speed up what has been a slow and frustrating process.

Finally, while each CUA is asked to manage over $10 million in funds to support the thousands of foster parents at over 40 community foster care agencies, we still receive no administrative fee for managing these funds and few dollars for billing and fiscal oversight. What this means is that each CUA has had to build its own infrastructure at its own cost to track thousands of children every day in their placements, process extremely detailed bills for each child’s care on a monthly basis from 40 providers, and manage a cash flow of hundreds of thousands of dollars every month – all with an average of 1.5 employees per CUA. This administrative burden, along with meeting state requirements to share thousands of documents with those 40 providers on a monthly basis, has resulted in an administrative nightmare that has put enormous stress on CUA agencies.

Money can’t solve all problems, but in this case, everyone knows that the money we all thought would be there when IOC was rolled out simply isn’t. While DHS continues to negotiate to obtain adequate funding from state government, we need to stand up and say that if the state can’t help these children, someone else has to. Like it or not, that someone is the members of City Council.

We beg you to use your authority to allocate city general funds wisely, by spending them to give a chance for a safe and healthy future to the thousands of children in DHS and CUA care.

 

Thank you.

 

David R. Fair, Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Turning Points for Children

http://www.turningpointsforchildren.org

 

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