DCYF Reduces Group Home Use, Lightens Caseworker Load, But Challenges Remain

Nov 30, 2016

Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

State lawmakers continue their oversight of the state's child welfare agency.  At a hearing Tuesday night, Department of Children, Youth, and Families director Jamia McDonald said her organization has made progress. 

Nearly two years ago, reports of mismanagement prompted  lawmakers and Governor Gina Raimondo to call for an overhaul of the child welfare agency. Some of the major problems: a high percentage of foster kids placed in group homes, huge caseloads for social workers, and financial mismanagement.

DCYF head Jamia McDonald says they have reduced the number of children placed in group homes by more than 20 percent. And she says the number of cases per caseworker is down to about 15.

“If you recall we were hovering around 20 to 21, national average we try to shoot for 13 to 15. With the addition of 17 caseworkers that will be coming we believe that will push the number even further.”

McDonald says her staff has streamlined the agency's finances. But major hurdles lie ahead. The agency is running out of foster families. But the problem isn’t a lack of interest, says McDonald.

“What we’ve seen the biggest deficiency is in recruiting is actually the retention. We have a lot of people interested in becoming foster parents but we don’t have any supports in place. We will license them, we will find a match, we will drop a child off, and then essentially they’ve been on their own.”

McDonald says the agency is working to recruit and support more foster families. She says they've reduced the backlog of families needing to be licensed from more than 200 to 19.

Another hurdle that lies ahead for the agency: buying the more than $300 million dollars worth of services it needs to support children and families in its care. The agency canceled contracts with outside providers and asked them to rebid those contracts in an effort to reduce duplicative or unneeded services. That reprocurement process is still underway.

Also, the search for McDonald’s replacement continues, although the field has been narrowed to a few candidates. McDonald has accepted a job in the private sector.