oversight

District of Columbia: Issues Associated with the Child and Family Services Agency's Performance and Policies

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-04-02.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on the District of
                             Columbia, Committee on Appropriations,
                             United States Senate

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST
Wednesday, April 2, 2003     DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
                             Issues Associated with the
                             Child and Family Services
                             Agency’s Performance and
                             Policies
                             Statement of Cornelia M. Ashby, Director
                             Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues




GAO-03-611T
                                               April 2003


                                               DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

                                               Issues Associated with the Child and
Highlights of GAO-03-611T a testimony
before the Subcommittee on the District of     Family Services Agency’s Performance
Columbia, Committee on Appropriations,
U.S. Senate                                    and Policies


                                               CFSA took actions to address six of the nine ASFA requirements related to
The District of Columbia (DC)                  the safety and well-being of children and met or exceeded four of the eight
Child and Family Services                      performance criteria GAO included in its study.
Agency (CFSA) is responsible
for protecting thousands of                    CSFA has established many foster care policies, but caseworkers did not
foster care children at risk of                consistently implement the six GAO examined. In addition, CFSA’s
abuse and neglect and ensuring                 automated system lacked data on policy implementation for 70 percent of its
that critical services are                     foster care cases. The table summarizes three of these policies and the
provided for them and their                    percentage of cases for which the data indicated the policy was
families. Representative Tom                   implemented.
Davis, Chairman of the House                   Table 2: The Extent of Implementation of Selected Foster Care Policies
Committee on Government
Reform, asked GAO to discuss                                                                                Percent of foster care cases
the extent to which CFSA has                                                                                   for which the policy was
                                               Policy                                                             implemented (N= 943)
taken actions to address the
                                               Initiate face-to-face investigation of alleged child abuse                             26
requirements of the Adoption                   or neglect within 24 hours of receiving an allegation on
and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of                CFSA’s child abuse hotline
1997 and other selected                        Complete a safety assessment within 24 hours of face-                                 13
performance criteria, adopted                  to-face contact with the child
and implemented child                          Complete a risk assessment within 30 days of                                          73
                                               receiving an allegation on the hotline
protection and foster care
                                               Source: FACES data and GAO analysis.
placement policies, and
enhanced its working
                                               CFSA has enhanced its working relationship with the Family Court. Frequent
relationship with the D.C.
                                               dialogue now occurs between CFSA’s top management and the Family
Family Court.
                                               Court, CFSA has expanded its legal services to support court activities, and
                                               CFSA participates in various planning committees with the court. However,
                                               hindrances remain, such as scheduling conflicts between the two entities;
                                               unclear roles and responsibilities of caseworkers, attorneys, and judges; and
                                               caseworkers who are not familiar with cases that have been recently
                                               transferred to them.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-611T

To view the full report, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Cornelia Ashby
at (202) 512-8403 or ashbyc@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss preliminary findings from our
study of the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Services Agency
(CFSA), done at the request of Representative Tom Davis, Chairman of the
House Committee on Government Reform. My testimony will focus on the
extent to which CFSA has (1) taken actions to address the requirements of
the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) and met selected
performance criteria, (2) adopted and implemented child protection and
foster care placement policies that are comparable to those generally
accepted in the child welfare community, and (3) enhanced its working
relationship with the D.C. Family Court.

My comments today are based primarily on our analysis of the information
in the District’s automated child welfare information system, known as
FACES, which CFSA is to use to manage child welfare cases and report
child abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption information to the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). We analyzed cases in
FACES that were at least 6 months old as of November 2002 and verified
the accuracy of its data. However, CFSA had not entered into FACES
detailed information on the data elements we needed for our analysis with
respect to about two-thirds of the District’s active foster care cases—
mostly cases that originated prior to FACES going on-line in October 1999.
Consequently, we also obtained and analyzed information from paper case
files to supplement FACES information for some cases. We also
interviewed District officials, CFSA managers, judges, and child welfare
experts, and we analyzed federal and District laws and regulations, related
court documents, and child welfare policies. Our final report will be issued
in May 2003. We conducted our work between September 2002 and March
2003 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
standards.

In summary, CFSA has taken actions to address various ASFA
requirements and met several selected performance criteria1, enacted child
protection and foster care placement policies and procedures, and
enhanced its working relationship with the D.C. Family Court; however,
much remains to be done. CFSA met two-thirds of the ASFA requirements


1
 These performance criteria were among those included in the performance standards that
CFSA had to meet in order to end the probationary period following the general
receivership. We selected those performance criteria that in our judgment most directly
relate to the safety and permanent placement of children.



Page 1                                                                    GAO-03-611T
             and half of the selected foster care performance criteria we used, and
             developed written plans to address two of the three unmet ASFA
             requirements and three of the four unmet performance criteria. In
             addition, CFSA has adopted child protection and foster care placement
             policies and procedures that are comparable to most, but not all, of those
             recommended by organizations that develop standards applicable to child
             welfare programs. However, CFSA has not adopted some key policies and
             procedures for ensuring the safety and permanent placement of children,
             and caseworkers have not consistently implemented or documented some
             of the policies and procedures that have been adopted. For example, CFSA
             has developed an automated child welfare data system to help manage its
             caseload, but detailed information for the data elements related to the
             policies reviewed had not been entered into the system for about 70
             percent of its foster care cases. Further, CFSA has improved its working
             relationship with the Family Court through improved communication and
             top management support; however, both CFSA and the Family Court still
             need to overcome barriers that continue to constrain this relationship.


             CFSA is responsible for protecting thousands of foster care children who
Background   have been at risk of abuse and neglect and ensuring that critical services
             are provided for them and their families. However, many children in
             CFSA’s care languished for extended periods of time due to managerial
             shortcomings and long-standing organizational divisiveness. As a result of
             these deficiencies, the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia
             issued a remedial order in 1991 to improve the performance of the agency.
             In 1995, lacking sufficient evidence of program improvement, the agency
             was removed from the District’s Department of Human Services and
             placed in general receivership. Under a modified final order (MFO)
             established by the court, CFSA was directed to comply with more than 100
             policy and procedural requirements. The efforts CFSA made during the
             receivership to improve its performance included establishing an
             automated system, FACES, to manage its caseload. The U.S. District Court
             ended the receivership in 2000, established a probationary period, and
             identified performance standards CFSA had to meet in order to end the
             probationary period. The court appointed the Center for the Study of
             Social Policy as an independent monitor to assess CFSA’s performance
             and gave them the discretion to modify the performance standards.
             However, in the summer of 2002, abuses of two children placed in group
             homes were reported, indicating that CFSA’s operations and policies,
             especially those regarding foster care cases, may still need improvement.




             Page 2                                                        GAO-03-611T
Additionally, several federal laws, local laws, and regulations established
goals and processes under which CFSA must operate. ASFA, with its goal
to place children in permanent homes in a timelier manner, placed new
responsibilities on all child welfare agencies nationwide. AFSA
introduced new time periods for moving children toward permanent,
stable care arrangements and established penalties for noncompliance.
For example, it requires states to hold a permanency planning hearing—
during which the court determines the future plans for a child, such as
whether the state should continue to pursue reunification with the child’s
family or some other permanency goal—not later than 12 months after the
child enters foster care. The D.C. Family Court Act of 2001, established the
District’s Family Court and placed several requirements on the District’s
Mayor and various District agencies, including CFSA and the Office of
Corporation Counsel (OCC).2 The Family Court Act requires the Mayor, in
consultation with the Chief Judge of the Superior Court, to ensure that
D.C. government offices that provide social services and other related
services to individuals served by the Family Court, including CFSA,
provide referrals to such services on site at the Family Court.

CFSA operates in a complex child welfare system. 3 The agency relies on
services provided by other District government agencies. For example,
both the Fire Department and the Health Department inspect facilities
where children are placed, and D.C. Public Schools prepare individual
education plans for children in care. In addition, CFSA works with
agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and other states to arrange the placement
of District children in those states and also works with private agencies to
place children in foster and adoptive homes.

The management of foster care cases involves several critical steps.
Typically, these cases begin with an allegation of abuse or neglect
reported to the CFSA child abuse hot line. CFSA staff are required to
investigate the allegation through direct contact with the reported victim.
If required, the child may be removed from his or her home, necessitating


2
 The D.C. Family Court Act of 2001, established the Family Court as part of the D.C.
Superior Court. The Family Court replaced the D.C. Superior Court’s former Family
Division. Among other responsibilities, the Family Court handles child abuse and neglect
cases and court hearings and other proceedings for the District’s foster children and their
families. OCC provides legal support for CFSA caseworkers during their appearances
before the Family Court.
3
We issued several GAO reports that addressed CFSA operations and program plans. For
more information see related GAO products.



Page 3                                                                        GAO-03-611T
                       various court proceedings handled by the District’s Family Court. CFSA
                       case workers are responsible for managing foster care cases by developing
                       case plans, visiting the children, participating in administrative hearings,
                       attending court hearings, and working with other District government
                       agencies. CFSA case workers are also responsible for documenting the
                       steps taken and decisions made related to a child’s safety, well being, and
                       proper placement. In addition, CFSA is responsible for licensing and
                       monitoring organizations with which it contracts, including group homes
                       that house foster care children.

                       HHS is responsible for setting standards and monitoring the nation’s child
                       welfare programs. The monitoring efforts include periodic reviews of the
                       operations, known as Child and Family Services Reviews,4 and of the
                       automated systems, known as Statewide Automated Child Welfare
                       Information System (SACWIS) Reviews, in the states and the District of
                       Columbia. HHS last reviewed CFSA’s child welfare information system in
                       2000 and its overall program in 2001.


                       CFSA took actions to address six of the nine ASFA requirements and met
CFSA Undertook         or exceeded four of the eight performance criteria we included in our
Actions to Address     study. Although ASFA includes other requirements, we only included
                       those directly related to the safety and well-being of children. The
Most ASFA              performance criteria were among those performance standards that CFSA
Requirements           had to meet in order to end the probationary period following the general
                       receivership. We selected those that, in our judgment, most directly relate
Reviewed and Met       to the safety and permanent placement of children in foster care. For
Half of the Selected   example, CFSA signed a border agreement to achieve timelier placement
Performance Criteria   of District children in Maryland, which addresses the ASFA requirement to
                       use cross-jurisdictional resources to facilitate timely adoptive or
                       permanent placements for waiting children. However, CFSA did not meet
                       three requirements involving (1) proceedings to terminate the rights of
                       parents whose children are in foster care, (2) annual hearings to review
                       permanency goals for children and (3) notice of reviews and hearings.
                       Table 1 summarizes the ASFA requirements directly related to the safety
                       and well-being of children and identifies whether CFSA met them.


                       4
                         Child and Family Services Reviews, conducted by HHS, cover a range of child and family
                       service programs funded by the federal government, including child protective services,
                       foster care, adoption, independent living, and family support and preservation services. The
                       2001 review evaluated seven specific safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for
                       services delivered to children and families served by CFSA.



                       Page 4                                                                       GAO-03-611T
Table 1: Summary of ASFA Requirements Relating Directly to the Safety and Well-
Being of Children

ASFA Requirements Met                           ASFA Requirements Not Met
1. Include the safety of the child in state     1. Initiate or join proceedings to
   case planning and in a case review              terminate parental rights for certain
   system                                          children in foster care—such as those
                                                   who have been in foster care for 15 of
                                                   the most recent 22 months of care
2.   Comply with requirements for criminal      2. Provide family members a notice of
     background clearances and have                reviews and hearings and an
     procedures for criminal record checks         opportunity to be heard
3.   Develop a case plan for a child for        3. Conduct mandatory annual
     whom the State’s goal is adoption or          permanency hearings every 12
     other permanent living arrangement            months for a child in foster care
4.   Develop plans for the effective use of
     cross-jurisdictional resources to
     facilitate timely adoptive or permanent
     placements for waiting children
5.   Provide for health insurance coverage
     for children with special needs in state
     plans for foster care and adoption
     assistance
6.   Incorporate standards to ensure
     quality services for children in foster
     care in state plans
Source: ASFA and HHS’ CSFR and GAO analysis.



We analyzed automated data related to eight selected performance criteria
and found that CFSA met or exceeded four of them. For example, one of
the criteria requires sixty percent of children in foster care to be placed
with one or more of their siblings; we found that as of November 30, 2002,
63 percent of children were placed with one or more siblings. The areas in
which CFSA’s performance fell short included criteria related to (1) social
worker visitation with children in foster care, (2) placement of children in
foster homes with valid licenses, and (3) progress toward permanency for
children in foster care and (4) parental visits with children in foster care
who had a goal of returning home. For example, none of the 144 children
placed in foster care during the 2-month period prior to November 30,
2002, received required weekly visits by a CFSA caseworker. In addition,
52 of 183 foster care children (32 percent), for whom CFSA had not met
the progress towards permanency goal, had been in foster care without
returning home for 36 months or more. Twenty-two of these children had
been in foster care 5 or more years without returning home. A complete
list of the performance criteria and our analysis is shown in appendix I.




Page 5                                                                     GAO-03-611T
CFSA has written plans to address two of the three unmet ASFA
requirements and three of the four unmet performance criteria we selected
for our study. One of CFSA’s plans includes actions to address one
criterion for which the agency fell short—parental visits. This plan, the
Interim Implementation Plan, includes measures that were developed to
show the agency’s plans for meeting the requirements of the MFO issued
by the court. The plan states that, for new contracts, CFSA will require its
contactors to identify sites in the community for parental visits to help
facilitate visits between parents and their children. However, CFSA does
not have written plans that address other unmet criteria, such as reducing
the number of children in foster care who, for 18 months or more, have
had a permanency goal to return home. CFSA has also not implemented
the ASFA requirement to provide foster parents, relative caregivers, and
pre-adoptive parents the opportunity to be heard in any review or hearing
held with respect to the child. Without complete plans for improving on all
measures, CFSA’s ability to comply with the ASFA requirements and meet
the selected performance criteria may be difficult. Furthermore, unless
these requirements and criteria are met the child’s safety may be
jeopardized, the time a child spends in foster care may be prolonged, or
the best decisions regarding a child’s future well-being may not be
reached.

Agency officials cited external demands, including court-imposed
requirements, staffing shortages, and high caseloads, as factors that
hindered CFSA’s ability to fully meet the ASFA requirements and the
selected performance criteria. For example, program managers and
supervisors said that the new court-imposed mediation process intended
to address family issues without formal court hearings places considerable
demands on caseworkers’ time. The time spent in court for mediation
proceedings, which can be as much as 1 day, reduces the time available for
caseworkers to respond to other case management duties, such as visiting
with children in foster care. Furthermore, managers and supervisors
reported that staffing shortages have contributed to delays in performing
critical case management activities, such as filing for the termination of
parental rights. Staffing shortages are not a unique problem to CFSA. We
recently reported that caseworkers in other states said that staffing
shortages and high caseloads had detrimental effects on their abilities to
make well-supported and timely decisions regarding children’s safety. We
also reported that as a result of these shortages, caseworkers have less
time to establish relationships with children and their families, conduct




Page 6                                                          GAO-03-611T
                            frequent and meaningful home visits, and make thoughtful and well-
                            supported decisions regarding safe and stable permanent placements.5


                            CSFA has established many foster care policies but, caseworkers did not
CFSA Has Established        consistently implement the six we examined. In addition, CFSA’s
Many Foster Care            automated system lacked data on policy implementation for 70 percent of
                            its foster care cases. When CFSA’s caseworkers are not consistently
Policies but Lacks          implementing the policies essential steps are not always being taken for all
Others, and the             children in a timely manner. As a result, children may be subject to
                            continued abuse and neglect or efforts to achieve permanent and safe
Extent of                   placements may be delayed. Furthermore, without information on all
Implementation and          cases, caseworkers do not have a readily available summary of the child’s
Documentation Varies        history needed to make future decisions and managers do not have
                            information needed to assess and improve program operations.


CSFA Has Established        While we previously reported in 20006 that CFSA lacked some important
Many Foster Care Policies   child protection and foster care placement policies, CFSA has now
but Caseworkers Did Not     established many such policies and most are comparable to those
                            recommended by organizations that develop standards applicable to child
Consistently Implement      welfare programs. For example, CFSA has policies for investigating
Them                        allegations of child abuse, developing case plans, and establishing
                            permanency goals for foster children. In addition, one policy is more
                            rigorous than suggested standards. Specifically, CFSA’s policy requires an
                            initial face-to-face meeting with children within 24 hours of reported abuse
                            or neglect, while the suggested standard is 48 hours or longer in cases that
                            are not high risk. However, CFSA still lacks some that are recommended,
                            namely (1) written time frames for arranging needed services for children
                            and families (e.g., tutoring and drug treatment for family members); (2)
                            limits on the number of cases assigned to a caseworker, based on case
                            complexity and worker experience; and (3) procedures for providing




                            5
                            U.S. General Accounting Office, Child Welfare: HHS Could Play a Greater Role in
                            Helping Child Welfare Agencies Recruit and Retain Staff, GAO-03-357 (Washington, D.C.:
                            Mar. 31, 2003).
                            6
                              U.S. General Accounting Office, District of Columbia Child Welfare: Long-Term
                            Challenges in Ensuring Children’s Well-Being, GAO-01-191 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 29,
                            2000), and U.S. General Accounting Office, Foster Care: Status of the District of
                            Columbia’s Child Welfare System Reform Efforts, GAO/HEHS-00-109 (Washington, D.C.:
                            May 5, 2000).



                            Page 7                                                                   GAO-03-611T
advance notice to each person involved in a case about the benefits and
risks of services planned for a child and alternatives to those services.

CFSA did not consistently implement the six policies we examined. We
selected policies that covered the range of activities involved in a foster
care case, but did not duplicate those examined in our review of the AFSA
requirements or the selected performance criteria. For three of the six
policies, data in FACES on all foster care cases indicate that the extent to
which caseworkers implemented them varied considerably. Table 2
summarizes these three policies and the percentage of cases for which the
data indicated the policy was implemented.

Table 2: The Extent of Implementation of Selected Foster Care Policies

                                                        Percent of foster care cases
                                                           for which the policy was
 Policy                                                       implemented (N= 943)
 Initiate face-to-face investigation of alleged child                             26
 abuse or neglect within 24 hours of receiving an
 allegation on CFSA’s child abuse hotline
 Complete a safety assessment within 24 hours of                                  13
 face-to-face contact with the child
 Complete a risk assessment within 30 days of                                     73
 receiving an allegation on the hotline
Source: FACES data and GAO analysis.


In some cases, it took CFSA caseworkers considerably longer than the
required time to initiate an investigation or complete safety and risk
assessments. In 93 cases, CFSA caseworkers took more than 10 days to
initiate the investigation and in 78 cases, it took caseworkers longer than
100 days to complete a risk assessment, more than three times longer than
the 30-day requirement.

For the other three policies, we reviewed case files and examined related
data from FACES for 30 cases, because officials told us that the
information related to these policies was not routinely recorded in FACES.
One policy requires caseworkers to complete a case plan within 30 days of
a child’s entry into foster care. Our analysis and file review found that case
plans were not routinely completed within 30 days. Another policy
requires conducting administrative review hearings every six months.
These reviews ensure that key stakeholders are involved in permanency
planning for the child. We found that administrative review hearings were
rescheduled for a variety of reasons, such as the caseworker had to appear
at a hearing for another case or the attorney was not available. The third
policy requires caseworkers to identify and arrange for services for


Page 8                                                                   GAO-03-611T
children and their families. It was difficult to determine whether services
recommended by caseworkers were approved by supervisors or if needed
services were provided. Managers said that sometimes services are
arranged by telephone and the results not entered into FACES.

Officials said that several factors affected the implementation of some of
the policies we reviewed. Agency officials explained that, in part, the data
on implementation of the initial investigations and safety assessment
reflected that the District’s Metropolitan Police Department was
responsible for the initial investigation of child abuse cases until October
2001 and that data was not entered into FACES. CFSA now has
responsibility for both child abuse and neglect investigations. Further,
program managers and supervisors said that several factors contribute to
the time frames required to initiate face-to-face investigations, including
difficulty in finding the child’s correct home address, contacting the child
if the family tries to hide the child from investigators, and even obtaining
vehicles to get to the location. Caseworkers’ supervisors and managers
explained that generally, the policies were not always implemented
because of limited staff and competing demands and the policies were not
documented because some caseworkers did not find FACES to be user
friendly.

CFSA officials said they recently made changes to help improve the
implementation of some of the policies we reviewed. CFSA has focused on
reducing its backlog of investigations and reduced the number of
investigations open more than 30 days from 807 in May 2001 to 263 in May
2002. CFSA officials said that they anticipate a reduction in the number of
administrative review hearings that are rescheduled. The responsibility for
notifying administrative review hearing participants when a hearing is
scheduled was transferred from caseworkers to the staff in the
administrative review unit, and notification will be automatically
generated well in advance of the hearings. Additionally, another official
said that CFSA has begun testing a process to ensure that all needed
services are in place within 45 days.

However, without consistently implementing policies for timely
investigations and safety and risk assessments, a child may be subject to
continued abuse and neglect. Delaying case plans and rescheduling
administrative review hearings delay efforts to place children in
permanent homes or reunite them with their families. Further, without
knowing whether children or families received needed services, CFSA
cannot determine whether steps have been taken to resolve problems or



Page 9                                                          GAO-03-611T
                          improve conditions, which also delays moving children toward their
                          permanency goals.

                          In addition to its policies for managing cases, CFSA has policies for
                          licensing and monitoring group homes, plans for training staff in group
                          homes, and a goal to reduce the number of young children in group homes.
                          CFSA’s policies for group homes are based primarily on District
                          regulations that went into effect July 1, 2002. According to a CFSA official,
                          the agency was precluded from placing children in an unlicensed group
                          home as of January 1, 2003. As of March 2003, all CFSA group homes were
                          licensed, except one, and CFSA was in the process of removing children
                          from that home. In the future, CFSA plans to use requirements for
                          licensing group homes as well as contractual provisions as criteria for
                          monitoring them. CFSA also plans to provide training to group home staff
                          to make it clear that, as District regulations require, any staff member who
                          observes or receives information indicating that a child in the group home
                          has been abused must report it. Further, CFSA has a goal to reduce the
                          number of children under 13 who are placed in group homes. CFSA has
                          reduced the number of children under 13 in group homes from 128 in
                          August 2002, to 70 as of February 2003; and, has plans to reduce that
                          number even further by requiring providers of group home care to link
                          with agencies that seek foster care and adoptive families.


CFSA’s Automated System   While CFSA’s policies with regard to is automated child welfare
Lacked Data on Many       information system --FACES—were not among the six policies we initially
Foster Care Cases         selected for examination, in our efforts to assess CFSA’s implementation
                          of the selected foster care policies, we determined that FACES lacked
                          such data for about 70 percent of its active foster care cases. Of the
                          population of foster care cases at least 6 months old as of November 30,
                          2002—2,510 cases—data on the initial investigation and safety and risk
                          assessment policies were not available for 1,763 of them. CFSA officials
                          explained that all of these cases predated FACES and the previous system
                          was used primarily to capture information for accounting and payroll
                          purposes, not for case management. Top agency managers said that CFSA
                          does not currently plan to make it an agency priority to include data in
                          FACES for these pre-FACES cases. Additionally, FACES reports showed
                          that data was not available on many of the more recent foster care cases.
                          For example, complete data on the initiation of investigations and safety
                          assessments were not available for about half of the 943 cases that entered
                          the foster care system after FACES came on line. Officials explained that
                          their plans are to focus on improving a few data elements at a time for
                          current and future actions.

                          Page 10                                                         GAO-03-611T
Complete and accurate data is an important aspect of effective child
welfare systems. HHS requires all states and D.C. to have an automated
child welfare information system. These systems, known as Statewide
Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (SACWIS), must be able to
record key child welfare functions, such as intake management, case
management, and resource management. However, it its review of FACES,
HHS found the system to be in noncompliance with several requirements,
including the requirements to prepare and document service/case plans
and to conduct and record the results of case reviews.7 In addition to the
standards and requirements established by HHS for all child welfare
systems, the MFO requirements stress the importance of an automated
system for CFSA. Many of the requirements the MFO imposed on CFSA
direct CFSA to produce management data. For example, the MFO requires
that CFSA be able to produce management data showing (1) how many
children who need medical reports received them within 48 hours after the
report of neglect or abuse was supported, (2) the caseload figures by
worker for all workers conducting investigations of reports of abuse or
neglect, and (3) the number of supervisors with at least 3 years of social
work experience in child welfare.

It is very important to have accurate and timely automated case
management data for all cases. An expert from a child welfare
organization stated that there is a great need to transfer information from
old case records to new automated systems in a systematic way. Without
such a transfer, paper records with important information may be lost. She
said that records of older teens have been lost, and, with them, valuable
information such as the identity of the child’s father, has also been lost.
Without data in FACES, if caseworkers need missing data they will have to
look for paper records in the case files, some of which are voluminous.
This file review effort is much more time consuming than reviewing an
automated report and requires more time for caseworkers to become
familiar with cases when cases are transferred to new caseworkers.
Complete, accurate, and timely case management data enables
caseworkers to quickly learn about new cases, supervisors to know the
extent that caseworkers are completing their tasks, and managers to know
whether any aspects of the agency’s operations are in need of
improvement.



7
 HHS completed its SACWIS assessment review of FACES in June 2000. The purpose of
this review is to assess whether the child welfare information system performs functions
that are important to meeting the minimal requirements.



Page 11                                                                     GAO-03-611T
CFSA Has Enhanced Its       CFSA has enhanced its working relationship with the Family Court
Working Relationship With   through its commitment to promoting improved communication and by
the D.C. Family Court by    expanding its legal support services for court activities. CFSA participates
                            in various planning committees with the Family Court, such as the
Working Collaboratively,    Implementation Planning Committee, and assists in providing service
But Hindrances Remain       referrals on site at the Family Court. Since 2002, attorneys from the OCC
                            have been located at CFSA and work closely with caseworkers. This co-
                            location has improved the working relationship between CFSA and the
                            Family Court because CFSA caseworkers and the attorneys are better
                            prepared for court appearances. Additionally, training sessions have been
                            held that included CFSA caseworkers, OCC attorneys, and Family Court
                            judges. Furthermore, frequent dialogue between top management at CFSA
                            and the Family Court and top management support have been key factors
                            in improving these relationships.

                            However, CFSA officials and Family Court judges noted several
                            hindrances that constrain their working relationships. These hindrances
                            include scheduling conflicts between the court and CFSA, an insufficient
                            number of caseworkers, caseworkers who are unfamiliar with cases that
                            have been transferred to them, and the unclear roles and responsibilities
                            of CFSA caseworkers, attorneys, and judges. For example, CFSA officials
                            said that Family Court judges often override caseworker
                            recommendations that affect children and families. Family Court judges
                            told us that they believe caseworkers do not always recommend
                            appropriate services for children and their families. As a result of these
                            conflicting perspectives, court officials said that appropriate decisions
                            affecting children and families might not be reached in a timely manner.


                            While CFSA has met several procedural ASFA requirements and other
Conclusions                 performance criteria, developed essential policies, and enhanced its
                            working relationship with the Family Court, it needs to make further
                            improvement in order to ensure the protection and proper and timely
                            placement of all of the District’s children. To improve outcomes for foster
                            care children, CFSA needs a comprehensive set of policies; effective
                            implementation of all policies; complete, accurate, and timely automated
                            data on which to base its program management; and an effective working
                            relationship with the D.C. Family Court. However, gaps in its foster care
                            policies, inconsistent policy implementation, and incomplete automated
                            data may hinder CFSA’s ability to protect and improve the outcomes for
                            the District’s children. We expect to have recommendations in our final
                            report that will address these issues and strengthen CFSA’s operations.



                            Page 12                                                         GAO-03-611T
                  Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be happy to
                  respond to any questions that you or other Subcommittee Members may
                  have.


                  For further contacts regarding this testimony, please call Cornelia M.
GAO Contact and   Ashby at (202) 512-8403. Individuals making key contributions to this
Acknowledgments   testimony included Carolyn M. Taylor, Mark Ward, Sheila Nicholson,
                  Vernette Shaw, and James Rebbe.




                  Page 13                                                         GAO-03-611T
Appendix I: GAO’s Analysis of Selected
Performance Criteria


 Performance Criteria                                                               GAO Analysis
 1. Current case plans for foster care cases                              Met       As of September 30, 2002, 46 percent of
       Forty-five percent of foster care cases have current case                    foster care cases had current case plans.
       plans.
 2. Visitation between children in foster care and their parents          Not met   As of November 30, 2002, 1 percent of
      Thirty-five percent of cases in which children have a                         children with a return home goal had
      goal of returning home have parental visits at least                          parental visits at least every 2 weeks.
      every 2 weeks.
 3. Social worker visitation with children in foster care                 Not met   As of November 30, 2002, no children had
     Twenty-five percent of children in foster care have weekly                     weekly visits; 0.3 percent had at least
     visits with caseworkers in their first 8 weeks of care; 35 percent             monthly visits with a social worker.
     of all children in foster care have at least monthly visits with a
     social worker.
 4. Appropriate legal status for children in foster care                  Met       As of November 30, 2002, no children in
      No child in emergency care (legal status) for more than 90                    emergency care more than 90 days.
      days.
 5. Current and valid foster home licenses                                Not met   As of November 30, 2002, 47 percent of
     Seventy-five percent of children are placed in foster home with                children were in foster homes with valid
      valid licenses.                                                               licenses.
 6. Progress toward permanency                                            Not met   As of November 30, 2002, 30 percent of
     No more than 10 percent of children in foster care have                        children had a permanency goal of return
     a permanency goal of return home for more than 18 months.                      home for more than 18 months.
 7. Foster care placement with siblings                                   Met       As of November 30, 2002, 63 percent of
     Sixty percent of children in foster care are placed with one or                children were placed with one or more
     more of their siblings.                                                        siblings.
 8. Placement stability                                                   Met       As of November 30, 2002, 21 percent of
     No more than 25 percent of children in foster care as                          children in care since August 1, 2001, had
    of May 31, 2002, have had three or more placements.                             three or more placements.
Source: GAO analysis.




                                               Page 14                                                            GAO-03-611T
Related GAO Products


             HHS Can Play a Greater Role in Helping Child Welfare Agencies Recruit
             and Retain Staff. GAO-03-357. Washington, D.C.: March 31, 2003.

             District of Columbia: More Details Needed on Plans to Integrate
             Computer Systems With the Family Court and Use Federal Funds. GAO-
             02-948. Washington, D.C.: August 7, 2002.

             Foster Care: Recent Legislation Helps States Focus on Finding
             Permanent Homes for Children, but Long-Standing Barriers Remain.
             GAO-02-585. Washington, D.C.: June 28, 2002.

             D.C. Family Court: Progress Made Toward Planned Transition and
             Interagency Coordination, but Some Challenges Remain. GAO-02-797T.
             Washington, D.C.: June 5, 2002.

             D.C. Family Court: Additional Actions Should Be Taken to Fully
             Implement Its Transition. GAO-02-584. Washington, D.C.: May 6, 2002.

             D.C. Family Court: Progress Made Toward Planned Transition, but
             Some Challenges Remain. GAO-02-660T. Washington, D.C.: April 24, 2002.

             District of Columbia Child Welfare: Long-Term Challenges in Ensuring
             Children’s Well-Being. GAO-01-191. Washington, D.C.: December 29, 2000.

             Foster Care: Status of the District of Columbia’s Child Welfare System
             Reform Efforts. GAO/T-HEHS-00-109. Washington, D.C.: May 5, 2000.




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