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Testimony: Oversight Hearing for DC’s Child and Family Services Agency 2013

Executive director Judith Sandalow testified before DC Council’s Committee on Human Services at an oversight hearing for the Child and Family Services Agency. Read a summary below or review the full testimony as submitted to the committee.

In the past year, since Brenda Donald became director of CFSA, she has taken key steps to build a strong foundation for the agency with a strategic vision. There is already evidence of positive change. While impressive, Donald’s reforms are still a work in progress. There are more changes to be made, and the current changes in practice are not fully implemented. Sandalow notes in her testimony that more progress can only be achieved if the agency continues to receive the resources it needs. “As fewer children come into care there must be a strategic reinvestment of those resources back into the agency in the form of services and staff,” the testimony reads. Additionally, Sandalow noted that the District’s other child- and family-serving agencies must be strong on their own and efficient at working together to maintain positive outcomes for children and families.

CFSA has made an effort to maximize the number of children placed with kin, which leads to better outcomes and more stability. There is a new Kinship Support Unit, staff from the Kinship Licensing unit are on call 24/7, and other policies have been updated in helpful ways. However, there are still some systemic barriers that must be addressed to further increase kinship placement rates.

Differential response is a strategy that allows CFSA to respond to calls about potential neglect or abuse with a positive family assessment rather than an adversarial investigation. Preliminary data suggests this is a very effective strategy, with 93% of the families who undergo an assessment finding the services they need, and only 7% being referred later for a traditional investigation. But the number of families served through an assessment continues to be a small percentage of the number of families who could benefit from this. There is a planned expansion for the coming year, but even greater expansion may be necessary in the future, especially because of the increased focus on reporting educational neglect.

Sandalow also testified on concerns about “community papering” – where children are removed from their families without a court order, understaffing that results in high caseloads for investigative social workers, the ongoing need to address children’s mental health needs and the often-related concern about multiple placements, as well as improving information sharing between agencies. Sandalow also noted the beginning of a needed increase in family team meetings before a child is removed, positive changes in the grandparent caregiver program, the need to address children’s mental health needs, and balancing the use of federal and local funds.