DHS officials have revised their child welfare reform plan, agreeing that abused and neglected babies should no longer be housed in state shelters after the end of the year.
Officials also pledged to take actions to improve customer service at the Department of Human Services.
“I'm pretty pleased with the revisions,” said Deborah Smith, DHS director of Children and Family Services.
Smith said she was particularly happy about revisions designed to assist families in becoming foster parents more quickly.
DHS was required to develop a child welfare reform plan as part of a settlement agreement announced last January. The settlement resolved a federal class-
DHS officials presented three out-of-state monitors with the initial draft of its proposed plan in late March. The monitors then received comments from the child advocacy group that filed the lawsuit. The monitors met with DHS officials last week to discuss suggested changes.
DHS submitted a revised reform plan to the monitors Tuesday.
Future changes are possible.
Most of the original reform recommendations remain intact, including plans to decrease caseloads, add 200 new child welfare workers over the next two years and recruit 500 new traditional foster families by the end of the first fiscal year. The agency wants more foster families so it can stop using its often-overcrowded shelters to care for the youngest abused and neglected children.
The revised plan incorporates a few changes, however.
It speeds up the process for getting abused and neglected babies out of state shelters and into family-like settings.
The original plan called for eliminating the use of shelters for children younger than 6 years old by June 30, 2013.
The new plan would require that all children under 2 years old be placed in family-like settings by Dec. 31, while leaving the earlier date intact for children ages 2 to 6.
DHS pledged to improve customer service in order to recruit and retain more foster parents.
About 5,000 families expressed an interest in becoming foster families during fiscal year 2011, but did not make it through the approval process.
“Approximately 15 percent of families who expressed interest dropped out of the process due to poor customer service,” the revised plan states, citing surveys and interviews.
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