R.I. DCYF orders inspection blitz of residential homes
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The state Department of Children, Youth and Families on Wednesday launched inspections of all 76 licensed residential facilities housing more than 400 children after investigators last week discovered violations at a Middletown group home and promptly shut it down.
The inspection blitz was prompted by the discovery of violations at the Middletown group home on Maple Avenue, Kevin J. Aucoin, the department’s deputy director, said. The group home’s operator, the nonprofit Child & Family of Newport, has submitted a plan to correct the problems and the home will be re-inspected Thursday, he said.
Seven boys, ages 6 to 12, were moved out of the home last Friday and the state placed a “hold” on its license, Aucoin said.
Child advocate won’t join suit agains DCYF
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 5
LENGTH: 667 words
HIGHLIGHT: Lawsuit alleging abuse, neglect of children was filed by predecessor and an advocacy group
PROVIDENCE Rhode Island’s child advocate is no longer representing the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed by her predecessor and the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights against the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Regina Marie Cost Gibb, appointed by the governor one year ago to serve as a watchdog over the department, said Friday that the lawsuit alleging widespread abuse and neglect of children in state foster care does not merit the child advocate’s involvement.
Gibb declined to elaborate on the suit, citing confidentiality. However, Gibb said, she is trying to work collaboratively with the DCYF’s new director, Janice E. DeFrances, to improve the child-welfare system “because that’s personally how I feel things work better.”
“I did not participate in the bringing of this lawsuit,” Gibb said. “Frankly, if you want to know my opinion, I choose to work in collaboration with the authorities. There are new faces in child welfare here and, frankly, collaboration is the way I think things need to go.”
Though appointed by the governor, the child advocate operates independently, serving as a watchdog over the DCYF including foster homes, group homes, shelters and the training school and monitoring complaints and reports of child abuse. State law requires the child advocate to take all possible action including filing lawsuits to ensure that the legal and civil rights of children are protected.
“When I feel as though this office needs to bring any action, whether it’s in Family Court or any other court,” Gibb said, “I will do so.”
The class-action suit, filed in 2007 by Gibb’s predecessor, Jametta O. Alston, and Children’s Rights, alleges that lack of funding and mismanagement of the state’s child-welfare system allowed some children in foster care to be molested, beaten and shuffled from home to home. The suit was fueled by the 2004 beating death of 3-year-old Thomas T.J. Wright in an unlicensed foster home.
The child’s death led to a review of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, which was accused of ignoring signs that the foster parents were unfit.
The state sought to have the suit thrown out, saying the federal court had no jurisdiction to hear the case and that several of the 10 children initially named as plaintiffs had since been adopted.
Former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, who had appointed Alston to the child-advocate’s job in 2005, repeatedly said he thought the lawsuit was without merit. In 2010, he convened a search committee to replace Alston when her five-year term expired. The selection committee chose Gibb, a 26-year employee of the DCYF. Her appointment was delayed until after Governor Chafee took office, and Chafee appointed her to the job in February 2011. The Senate unanimously approved her nomination at the end of March last year.
Upon taking office, Gibb informed the DCYF officials that she’d reviewed the case and reviewed the pleadings and she came to a decision she would not be joining in the lawsuit, recalled Kevin J. Aucoin, acting deputy director of the DCYF. “She notified us and the plaintiffs and the chief judge of the Family Court that she would not be joining in.”
Alston, who continues to serve as private co-counsel to the plaintiffs with Children’s Rights, declined to comment.
Last July, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi allowed the suit to proceed with the remaining plaintiffs who are still in state care.
Children’s Rights has since replaced all but 2 of the 10 original plaintiffs with new plaintiffs, bringing the total number to 7.
Asked whether the current child advocate’s absence from any formal involvement in the suit could hurt the case, Children’s Rights lawyer Shirim Nothenberg said it would not.
“The plaintiffs are being represented by experienced lawyers who are well equipped to move forward with the suit without the child advocate,” Nothenberg said. “We stand by the allegations. We stand by the need for reform. And we re prepared to fight for reform”
Proposed DCYF cuts draws fire
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 3
LENGTH: 756 words
HIGHLIGHT: Plan calls for $7-million hike for this fiscal year, but a reduction in next fiscal year in program that helps former foster children
PROVIDENCE Governor Chafee is proposing to increase the budget of the state’s child-welfare department by $7 million to make up for the department’s shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30, according to figures presented at a State House hearing Tuesday.
The proposed budget increase came to light during a presentation before a packed House Finance subcommittee hearing about the state Department of Children, Youth & Families.
The additional $7.1 million would offset a shortfall in anticipated federal reimbursements and grants, as well as budget overruns for residential care due to overly optimistic projections about reducing the number of children in out-of-home treatment programs.
But the additional funding in the governor’s midyear spending plan offered little solace to the dozens of people, including former foster youths, who packed the hearing room. They were protesting a $375,000 cut in the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 for a program that assists young adults who have aged out of the system.
Nearly two dozen people waited through a 3½-hour hearing to testify against the cuts to the YESS after-care program. The Young adults Establishing Self Sufficiency program provides stipends for basic living expenses rent, utilities and groceries — along with counselors for adults 18 to 21 years old who stay in school or get a job.
Among them was Sarah L. Smith, 18. The program helps pay for the apartment in Providence she shares with her twin sister, Elyssa. They were reunited after having been split up during their last two years in foster care. “They gave us the opportunity to choose where we wanted to live and how we live our lives,” Smith said.
Smith, a student at Rhode Island College, said that if she lost her apartment with her sister she’d have no home to return to. “Please don’t put us back in the position where we were before we turned 18,” she said. “I’m not sure how many of us can survive more bad things happening to us.”
Dee Saint Franc, 21, recounted how lost she felt when she was 18 and a single mother caring for a baby and trying to finish high school and taking college courses. Now, she said, she has an associates degree and is studying to be a social worker. She also has a full-time job with health benefits. “I always go by this saying: I do not want to be another statistic,” she said. “Now, I’m set up for success in life.”
If the governor approves the proposal to cut $375,000, or 19 percent of the after-care program’s $1.97-million budget, the program would have to eliminate 46 of the 232 participants from its rolls and new applicants would have to be put on a waiting list, said Lisa Guillette, executive director of the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association, which administers the program.
Jeff Gore, who joined the program during his second year in high school, is now working toward a college degree. In 2011, he said, University of Rhode Island men’s basketball coach Jim Baron (who has since been fired) earned $350,000 even though he never once beat a top-25 team. Gore told the subcommittee: “For the cost of a perennially losing coach you can provide housing and case management for 46 youth.”
The YESS program has been spared cuts in the last two years while other DCYF providers have had their pay rates lowered, Kevin J. Aucoin, acting deputy director of the DCYF, said. The proposed reduction is for fiscal 2013.
“We’re now cutting prevention at the same time we’re trying to implement a [new] system of care with already reduced funding,” David Caprio, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Children’s Friend, said. “Those youth are going to grow up and raise children.”
To save money and produce better outcomes for children in state care, the DCYF has been trying to reduce its residential caseloads and serve more children through community programs.
The department’s caseload for children in residential care is just under 800 youths, compared with a projected monthly average of 640 in 2012, the DCYF’s director, Janice E. DeFrances, testified. The lower number was not feasible, she said.
The department has now set a more realistic goal, she said, of 745 children in residential programs, including group homes, treatment facilities and so-called treatment foster homes.
“We’re at a tipping point now because we’re seeing that the numbers are stalling,” Margaret Holland McDuff, chief executive of Family Service of Rhode Island, told the committee. “We need to do business in a different way. But we need the dollars.”
Deficit prompts DCYF to cut provider fees;
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 7
LENGTH: 552 words
HIGHLIGHT: Agency will also postpone outsourcing of contract management until new fiscal year begins July 1
PROVIDENCE The state’s child welfare agency is notifying as many as 50 private providers it contracts with for residential treatment, counseling, and other services that their rates will be cut to help offset a $7.8-million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The Department of Children, Youth and Families also has postponed the start date for shifting management of its contracts with dozens of providers to two nonprofit networks from this month until the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
Private providers, many of them nonprofits that depend on the DCYF to fund their programs, have been operating on a fee-for-service basis since their contracts with the department expired June 30.
The temporary rate action, expected to save about $5.5 million, is aimed primarily at reducing fees the department pays children’s shelters, group homes and other residential care providers, John Young, deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday.
“Certainly, this is not comfortable for anyone,” Young said. “It’s going to require the providers to be very vigilant to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their care.”
Many of the nonprofit providers already have been forced to layoff staff and reduce their bed counts in recent months as the department has cut back on use of its residential services.
The DCYF reported the budget shortfall at a State House hearing Wednesday before the House Finance Committee.
Last March, the department embraced a plan to slash $25 million, or 11 percent, from their budget starting July 1. The savings were to be achieved in large measure by shifting management of its contracts with dozens of private residential and community-based agencies to two nonprofit networks.
But negotiations with the two networks Ocean State Network for Children and Families and Rhode Island Care Management Network have yet to yield signed contracts.
Janice E. DeFrances, executive director of the DCYF, on Tuesday told department staff that after hearing concerns from department staff she decided implementation of the new system-of-care plan would be done in two phases, with the goal of completing it by July 1.
“I have heard your concerns regarding the time and fiscal constraints that have left some feeling that the network and department infrastructures are not ready to assume this huge responsibility and change,” she wrote in a Jan. 10 e-mail addressed to all DCYF staff obtained by The Journal. “This system is too important to implement without the infrastructure, staffing and resources in place.”
Philip Keefe, president, Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees and a DCYF supervisor, praised the decision, saying it was a prudent one.
“There had been some concern right along that there weren’t some things in place that needed to be in place,” Keefe said. “They needed to take a thoughtful pause before the thing fell on its face, or worse, endangered kids.”
The department had expected that by this month it would have signed contracts for $65.7 million with the two networks. The contracts were supposed to help the department realize millions of dollars in savings from consolidating administrative services and standardizing rates, as well as serving more children in community-based programs instead of residential ones.
Two lawyers sanctioned
BYLINE: Tracy Breton, Journal Staff Writer
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 6
LENGTH: 373 words
HIGHLIGHT: Milan T. Azar was accused of overbilling, and Donald R. Lembo of failing to consult clients
PROVIDENCE The state Supreme Court has sanctioned two lawyers, Milan T. Azar and Donald R. Lembo, for ethics violations based on complaints brought by the court’s disciplinary counsel. But the punishment meted out does not affect their right to practice law.
Azar was accused of deliberately overbilling the state Department of Children, Youth and Families for a guardianship in which he represented four children from the same family in 2009, lying about it to the DCYF and disciplinary counsel David D. Curtin, and improperly soliciting clients in the Family Court.
Lembo was accused of failing to consult with more than 30 clients on their claims for unpaid wages from the Wackenhut security company before settling their cases, getting one of the workers to solicit his co-workers to hire him and signing some of the claimants names to their settlement checks without their knowledge or consent.
The court publicly censured Lembo and ordered Azar to provide 20 hours of free representation in guardianship cases within the next year. Once proof is submitted that Azar has completed the pro bono services, the disciplinary matter against him will be dismissed.
In sanctioning Azar, a former Johnston town solicitor and former legal counsel to the Rhode Island House of Representatives Labor Committee, the court said he has been a member of the bar for 29 years, has no prior discipline appears to be fully remorseful for his conduct and has taken full responsibility for his conduct. There are no aggravating factors present in this case, the court said.
The court also noted that Azar has yet to receive any payment from DCYF on the guardianship at issue even though he clearly attempted to collect an unreasonable fee for the services provided.
It further said that Azar has promised that he will no longer seek to provide legal assistance to people he believes are distraught or confused when he encounters them in the Family Court.
As for Lembo, the court said that while he had committed ethics violations, he did pay the 32 employees he represented in the wage-dispute matter all the funds they were entitled to.
The justices, in issuing a public censure, said that was the punishment recommended by its disciplinary board.
Fewer children in group homes
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 8
LENGTH: 663 words
HIGHLIGHT: Report shows push toward home-based treatment, away from residential programs
PROVIDENCE Rhode Island’s child-welfare system is keeping more at-risk children in their own homes, but data show those placed in foster care are moved around more frequently than they were just a year ago, a report released Thursday indicates.
Children who move from one foster home to the next or remain in out-of-home care for long periods are at a greater risk for emotional, behavioral and educational problems, according to the report by Rhode Island Kids Count.
Rhode Island had close to 7,000 children in state care, including 2,086 in out-of-home placements, as of last August. The number of children in out-of-home placements has fallen nearly 31 percent over the last four years, the report says.
The report comes as the state Department of Children, Youth and Families is following a national model of moving more children out of shelters, group homes and residential treatment programs in keeping with the new approach that favors less-expensive home-based treatment.
Brother Michael Reis, chief executive officer of Tides Family Services, said during the discussion period that the budget cuts at the DCYF are a disaster.
He said: “You’re jeopardizing kids terribly and this is a great report to look at it.”
Janice E. DeFrances, who became department director three months ago, said she recognizes that “we’re dealing with huge cuts, but the department has to try to make the most of the resources.”
She ticked off several areas of concern, including data that show the number of infants and young children in foster care nationwide has remained the same or increased slightly since 2002, and that minorities in Rhode Island are over-represented in state care, as compared with their share of the total population.
DeFrances also said she found extremely worrisome that the Kids Count data show the percentage of children in three or more placements within less than one year has increased since 2009.
Kids Count also reported an increase in the repeat maltreatment rate for 2010. Repeat maltreatment refers to a substantiated report of child abuse or neglect within six months of the initial substantiated abuse or neglect report. However, the DCYF’s Colleen Caron said in an interview that the data is inaccurate because it was published prior to correcting reporting errors, and that the rate actually improved last year.
(Kids Count’s report said the repeat maltreatment rate in 2010 was 9.8 percent, up from just over 6 percent in 2009. The national standard is 6.1 percent. But the DCYF has since revised the maltreatment rate to closer to 8 percent, Caron said.)
The report recommends that the state invest more in family-support programs, mental health services and childhood education, and do a better job of tracking the outcomes of its community-based programs.
The Kids Count report, Safety, Permanency and Well-being for Children in the Care of DCYF, also showed:
The percentage of children in three or more out-of-home placements during a period of less than one year rose to 14.1 percent in fiscal 2010, up from 11.6 percent in fiscal 2009. The national standard is 13.3 percent.
Children are being reunited with their families of origin more quickly than they used to be 71 percent within less than 12 months in fiscal 2010, up from 68 percent in fiscal 2009 though the state is still below the national standard of 76 percent. But last year, 23.4 percent of them wound up back in foster care within 12 months of returning home. The national standard is 15 percent.
The number of children who reentered foster care in fiscal 2010 jumped to 23.4 percent, from just over 20 percent in fiscal 2009. The national standard is 15 percent.
Minority children are over-represented in the foster-care system, with black children representing 17 percent of children in foster care as compared with 6 percent in the state as a whole. Hispanic children represent 26 percent of children in foster care compared with 21 percent in the overall state population.
Concerns raised about DCYF
BYLINE: Philip Marcelo, Journal State House Bureau
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 8
LENGTH: 507 words
HIGHLIGHT: Changes in child protection need to be watched, says advocate
PROVIDENCE — At a hearing before a state Senate committee on Wednesday, Rhode Island’s new child advocate, Regina Marie Costa Gibb, voiced concerns about major changes happening at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
The department, one of the state’s largest and most complex agencies, is moving away from more costly, traditional forms of child-protection services, like group homes and emergency shelters, and toward less expensive home-based programs that allow children, for the most part, to continue living with their families or relatives.
Gibb, who was appointed by Governor Chafee earlier this year, said she agreed with the philosophy behind the changes, but would be watching closely as the process unfolds.
“I don’t want to be negative about it. There are obviously some concerns, but I really do believe in the philosophical underpinnings,” she told the Senate committee. “I really do believe that children need to be home and want to be home. I really do believe parents want their children to be home. And I believe that even if we can’t keep them home, relatives are the best place for them to be and that their communities are the best place for them to be. I just hope we are keen to some of the pitfalls that are associated with those as well.”
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard from Gibb as part of a regular series of oversight hearings assessing the well-being of children in state care.
Gibb said the first phase of the department’s changes is under way, and deals, in part, with providing social and medical services to the families of children at risk of DCYF intervention, typically due to abuse, neglect or serious emotional disturbance. It also deals with youths returning to the community following a sentence at the Rhode Island Training School, the state’s the DCYF juvenile-detention facility.
Gibb said her concern is whether service providers will ultimately have both the expertise and the information about a family’s individual situation that is needed to prevent direct involvement by the state.
The second and final phase of the changes takes effect in January and deals with children and families already under the supervision of the department. A goal of that phase, according to DCYF planning documents, is to maintain children safely in their own homes, to improve the rate of reunification, and to prevent the recurrence of maltreatment.
Gibb said one of her primary concerns for that phase is that state money tied to that initiative has been cut by nearly 50 percent from what was initially anticipated, from about $120 million to $64 million.
Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, a Providence Democrat who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said after the hearing that she thought Gibb did a good job clarifying concerns that the committee and others had about the changes at the DCYF.
Perry said the hearing will help set the stage as a new joint House and Senate commission begins meeting next month on the state of education for foster children and children at the Training School.
DCYF probe of teen jail visit ends
BYLINE: W. Zachary Malinowski, Journal Staff Writer
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 3
LENGTH: 300 words
HIGHLIGHT: No one disciplined after worker brings daughter to center to teach lesson
PROVIDENCE The state Department of Children, Youth and Families has completed an internal investigation into how a troubled teenager was allowed to spend time at the Youth Development Center for delinquent girls and boys to see what it’s like to be jailed.
Kevin Aucoin, the DCYF’s interim director, said that no disciplinary action was taken against any staff members, but he directed Joseph Cardin, the center’s acting superintendent, to make sure that all visitors have written administrative approval, before they are allowed entry to the juvenile jail.
He also said that Cardin was told to reinforce with the command staff the existing protocol with respect to access to the facility.
“I am confident that proper measures are in place that will prevent this issue from happening in the future,” Aucoin said.
In late May, The Journal received information that a 16-year-old girl was allowed into the facility over the weekend. Aucoin looked into the incident and confirmed that a woman who works in the Youth Development Center brought in her teenage daughter one Sunday morning.
He said that Cardin arrived around 10 a.m., 90 minutes after the girl entered the building, but he did not become aware of the girl’s presence until 3:15 p.m. Aucoin said that Cardin ordered that the girl be brought to his office. She was, and arrangements were made for her to be sent home.
Apparently, the mother was having problems with her daughter at home and she decided to teach her a lesson by forcing her to spend time in the juvenile jail.
Aucoin said the girl was brought there to speak to someone about the ramifications of her conduct and potential consequences of her actions. He said that she was not harmed.
As a rule, only a Family Court judge can order a juvenile to spend time in the corrections system.
Children’s shelters to lose 17 beds
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 2
LENGTH: 530 words
HIGHLIGHT: Cost-cutting measure will spare 2 shelters from planned closing for another 6 months
PROVIDENCE The state’s child welfare agency will eliminate 17 beds in shelters for abused or neglected children and teenagers, but spare two children’s shelters from a planned closing — for at least another six months.
The budget cuts, says one shelter operator, could force shelters to scrimp on food and clothing and reduce employees health benefits.
The reduction in beds statewide from 77 to 60 beds will begin July 1 and save the state agency almost $659,000, Brian P. Peterson, chief financial officer of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, said.
Shelter operators agreed to reduce their overall bed counts, Peterson said, rather than have the DCYF pay them based on occupancy rates, which lately have been running at about 75-percent to 80-percent capacity.
The agency also has put off, at least for now, a plan to close two remaining children’s shelters that care for infants and children up to age 8.
“I think it was a great compromise,” Peterson said. “I understood their point, they understood our point and we worked together on it. I was very impressed with their cooperation and their proposal.”
For the Washington Park Children’s Shelter in Providence, the cost-cutting will mean a loss of $59,505 over the next six months.
“We’re trying to figure out how we re going to do this,” Frances Murphy, the shelter’s executive director, said Monday. “I still need to have two staff people here even if I have six children (instead of eight), so it’s a matter of trying to find the money to reduce costs for food and clothing and everything else we do.:
The shelter’s full-time employees, who earn $10 or $12 an hour, she said, may be asked to work split-shifts and contribute to their health benefits. (The shelter currently provides its full-timers with free medical coverage.)
“We haven’t given any raises in four or five years,” she said. “This is a tough job when you work with kids in crisis. It’s not like working at the Friendly’s ice cream store.”
The elimination of shelter beds is part of the DCYF’s plan to slash $25 million, or 11 percent, from the agency’s budget during the fiscal year that begins July 1. The department plans to achieve the lion’s share of the cost savings by moving more children out of shelters, group homes and residential treatment programs. The new system-of-care model favors less expensive home-based services.
The department’s shelter contracts run from July 1 to Dec. 31. By then, the department will have awarded contracts to a few private agencies, which, in turn, will negotiate contracts with shelters and other service providers.
The DCYF officials have said they are reducing shelter beds in response to a decline in need. But some shelter operators maintain that the department has been placing fewer children in shelters to save money.
The department put a freeze on placing kids in shelters last February when officials announced plans to close the children’s shelters, Murphy, of the Washington Park Children’s Shelter, said. They’ve made a determined effort to show that the shelters aren’t needed.
The shelter’s occupancy rate in May 2010 was 90 percent, she said, compared with 48 percent in May of this year.
State seeks dismissal of suit
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 9
LENGTH: 352 words
HIGHLIGHT: Case brought against DCYF by former child advocate, New York-based group
PROVIDENCE A federal District Court judge heard arguments Friday about whether to dismiss a 2007 lawsuit that accuses the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families of widespread abuse and neglect of children in state foster care.
The suit, filed by the state’s former child advocate, Jametta O. Alston, and the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights, alleges that lack of funding and mismanagement of the state’s child-welfare system have allowed some children in foster care to be molested, beaten and shuffled from home to home.
A lawyer for the state attorney general’s office asked Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi to dismiss the case, saying the judge is being asked to rule on matters involving children’s placements, which belong before the Family Court. Brenda D. Baum, an assistant attorney general, also questioned whether the federal District Court has the authority to order the state to provide additional funding for children in its care if the plaintiffs succeed in pressing their claims that Rhode Island’s caseworkers are overloaded and its foster parents underpaid.
Susan Lambiase, a lawyer and associate director of Children’s Rights, which filed the lawsuit, said the Family Court has limited jurisdiction and cannot address the broader violation of the constitutional rights of children in state care. “What we’re trying to do is make this a safer system,” Lambiase said.
In April 2010 another U.S. District Court judge, Ronald R. Lagueux, dismissed the suit, but the following June a federal appeals court in Boston overturned the lower court’s ruling and sent the case back to federal District Court in Providence.
Of the original 10 children in the lawsuit, 7 remain plaintiffs. And all but two of the seven plaintiffs have been adopted and are no longer in the state care system.
Lisi issued no ruling in the case.
During the last 15 years, Children’s Rights has filed lawsuits in 11 states, including the District of Columbia, to force child-welfare reform, Lambiase said. The only states where the suits did not succeed in achieving reforms, she said, were Florida and Nebraska.
Out-of-state care costly for DCYF
BYLINE: peter b. lord, journal staff writer
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 7
LENGTH: 724 words
State Rep. Roberto DaSilva recently introduced legislation intended to make it much more difficult for the state Department of Children, Youth and Families to send children in its care to out-of-state residential treatment facilities.
He said he was moved by the story of Nicholas Alahverdian, who was the subject of a column by The Providence Journal’s Bob Kerr.
Nicholas Alahverdian says he endured years of abuse and neglect in two out-of-state residential facilities where he was sent by the DCYF. He has formed his own nonprofit organization to advocate for children in DCYF care. He has also filed state and federal lawsuits stemming from his alleged mistreatment.
DaSilva said in a General Assembly news release that Rhode Island has the resources to provide children with the treatment they need within the state. DaSilva said he is concerned about the well-being of children in state care and also about keeping taxpayer dollars in the state.
“We’re paying out-of-state residential facilities hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to house our own state residents,” DaSilva said. “It just doesn’t make sense, especially in these dire economic times.”
Among the children the DCYF takes into its custody are those who are victims of abuse or neglect caused by their primary caretakers, those who are in the juvenile justice system and ordered by courts to have access to rehabilitative care, and those with emotional, behavioral or developmental challenges who need out-of-home care and treatment and whose parents give the DCYF temporary custody, according to DCYF interim Director Kevin J. Aucoin.
The DCYF has said it is working to reduce its dependence on residential treatment programs, both in Rhode Island and in other states. So we wondered whether the agency is still spending as much as DaSilva says on such placements.
We asked DaSilva where he got his information, and he referred us to a website called the Rhode Island DCYF Transparency Portal. It shows the agency’s expenditures in various categories such as personnel and foster care. The top expenditure is residential services.
For fiscal year 2010, for instance, the portal shows the state spent $117 million for residential care for youth in DCYF custody, which also includes costs for foster home placements and community services.
Much of that money was spent on local services such as Child and Family Services of Newport County or Ocean Tides, a residential treatment program in Narragansett for male juvenile offenders. The DCYF also budgets an additional $22.4 million this year for youths sent to the Rhode Island Training School.
But the website shows that millions of dollars go to out-of-state programs. For example, Mass Mentor Inc., which provides services at several Massachusetts locations to children with developmental disabilities, was paid $376,829 in the first quarter.
During the same quarter, the Bennington School in Vermont was paid $77,769 and the Glen Mills School in Pennsylvania got $59,246.
We asked Aucoin, the DCYF interim director, for more data. He said that this fiscal year, the DCYF expects to spend $65.5 million on residential services for 718 children, with $9.5 million going to out-of-state facilities, most of them in nearby states.
Aucoin says the spending on residential programs has been declining. In fiscal year 2007, for example, the state spent $85.4 million for 1,102 children. In that year, it spent $18.4 million to send 154 children out of state.
All residential placements are expected to be reduced as the agency adopts a new model of care that focuses on keeping families together.
Aucoin said the DCYF sends children out of state for specialized treatments not offered by in-state providers. Those include multiple psychiatric diagnoses and severe and profound developmental disabilities. The majority, he said, have severe aggressive behaviors. Some may be youth with significant sexual-offending behaviors.
Aucoin said children are placed out of state only with approval of the Family Court, and only after the agency demonstrates there is no adequate program in-state.
So it appears the only fault with DaSilva’s claim is it is too conservative. Instead of spending the hundreds of thousands, DaSilva claims, the state actually expects to spend nearly $10 million on out-of-state programs.
We find his claim to be Mostly True.
DCYF plans savings through home-based services
March 28, 2011
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 931 words
HIGHLIGHT: State child-welfare officials plan to cut $25 million, or 11 percent, from their budget starting July 1
PROVIDENCE The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families anticipates saving millions of dollars during the next fiscal year by moving more children out of shelters, group homes and residential treatment programs.
The department’s new system-of-care model blends a philosophy centered on family preservation with a pragmatic mindset about budget realities that favor the national trend toward less expensive, home-based services.
Now, as veterans, the elderly and others descend on State House hearings to protest Governor Chafee’s proposed spending cuts, state child-welfare officials are embracing a plan that would slash $25 million, or 11 percent, from their budget starting July 1.
“Over the past three to four years, the department has been planning a major transformation in how we deliver services to Rhode Island’s children, youth and families,” Kevin Aucoin, the DCYF’s interim director, said. The proposed budget presents us with an opportunity to complete the system of care transformation in a way that will be based on sound social-work practice and focused on better outcomes.
The department plans to save $10.8 million on residential services in fiscal 2012 by reducing the number of children and teenagers sent to shelters, group homes and live-in treatment programs, and by limiting most stays to 90 days. To achieve the savings, the department would have to reduce its average daily residential population to about 603 youths, or 115 fewer than during the first half of this year, the department’s figures show.
The spending cuts are also predicated on the continuation of a trend that was unheard of just five years ago: declining caseloads.
The department’s active average annual caseloads declined 30 percent during the last three years, to about 3,400 cases in fiscal 2010, the agency’s data show. The department’s budget projections anticipate the trend will continue, with caseloads falling, on average, to about 3,090 in fiscal year 2012.
The decline in caseloads, Aucoin said, is in large part due to the department’s partnership with four nonprofit agencies, each responsible for a different region of the state. Since 2009, the agencies have contracted with the department to provide screening, treatment and community-based referrals for children and families at risk of abuse or neglect.
Referrals to the agencies, called Family Care Community Partnerships, include cases that were called into the child abuse hotline but don t meet the criteria for an investigation, as well as those that have been investigated but the complaint was determined to be unfounded. These agencies also get referrals for cases in which the department found evidence of abuse and neglect, but where no criminal charges were filed, said Benedict F. Lessing Jr., executive director of Family Resources Community Action. The Woonsocket-based nonprofit agency has a $1.2-million contract with the DCYF to serve as the community partner for the northern region.
The agencies manage their clients cases and offer screening, counseling, behavioral therapy and other treatment — from parenting skills to treatment for drug and sexual abuse both directly and through subcontracts with other community-based providers.
It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to do what we do than to place a child in a residential facility for $140,000-plus dollars a year, Lessing said. It’s a different way of approaching what we’ve done here in Rhode Island. In many ways it’s social work in the way we were trained to do it.
The DCYF expects to save about $4.9 million next year by streamlining its purchases of services from 78 different contractors down to two or three primary providers, reducing overhead expenses and creating a built-in incentive to keep costs down, the department’s chief financial officer, Brian P. Peterson, said.
Other cost-saving measures include moving the female population at the Training School into one of the complex’s new buildings to reduce staffing needs; requiring local school districts and charter schools to reimburse the DCYF for the cost of educating students at the Training School (legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly on the department’s behalf); standardizing rates for child-care and foster-care providers; and eliminating about 30 staff positions through attrition.
In all, the DCYF has recommended a fiscal 2012 budget of $210.9 million, or 11 percent less than the previous fiscal year’s budget.
That’s a very ambitious budget goal, said Craig Gordon, vice president of Communities for People, a non-profit agency that operates both residential and home-based programs. He questioned the wisdom of trying to achieve $10.8 million of the cost-savings from residential programs, saying, Is it realistic?
Family-based services are absolutely very effective and they should always be tried first in almost every situation, Gordon said. But they re not a panacea. There are going to be times that children have to leave their families, hopefully for only brief periods of time.
Gordon credited the DCYF with providing more preventative services to keep children in their homes. But he said the reasons for the decline in residential placements are also likely the result of demographic trends that have been showing up in declining public school enrollments.
The population of children living in Rhode Island during the last decade has dropped 9.6 percent, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
There are less kids in the State of Rhode Island, he said, which also means there’s less children at risk.
March 22, 2011 Tuesday:
Nicholas Alahverdian Bill would limit DCYF placements:
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PROVIDENCE State Rep. Roberto DaSilva has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to prevent Family Court from placing children in out-of-state residential facilities or treatment centers.
The bill, H-5746, applies to children in the care of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
DaSilva, D-East Providence, Pawtucket, introduced the bill at the request of Nicholas Alahverdian, 23, a former DCYF client who endured years of abuse and neglect in two out-of-state residential facilities. Alahverdian is policy director of NexusGovernment and lobbies for legislation to protect children in DCYF care.
Historically, the DCYF has sent children to out-of-state facilities if the youths needed services that the agency determines are not offered in Rhode Island.
Providence Journal Staff
February 17, 2011 Thursday
Children’s shelter pros, cons aired
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 10
LENGTH: 531 words
HIGHLIGHT: Senate panel weighs plans to replace emergency children’s shelters with immediate response foster homes
PROVIDENCE Rhode Island‘s top child-welfare director testified before a Senate committee Wednesday that the state’s plan to develop immediate response foster homes to replace the state’s three emergency children’s shelters represents a shift in thinking nationwide about the best way to care for young children.
But allowing two of the state’s three emergency children’s shelters to remain open until their current contracts expire June 30 will enable the state Department of Children, Youth and Families to determine if there are enough immediate-response foster homes able to care for these children, to train providers and to evaluate the program, said Kevin Aucoin, interim director for the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
I have no reason to question that children are well cared for at the emergency shelters, Aucoin told the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. This initiative is consistent with a policy shift This reflects best practices.
Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, chairwoman of the committee that oversees the DCYF, said plans to close the emergency shelters could place our most vulnerable children at risk.
The three children’s shelters Washington Park Shelter in Providence; Children’s Shelter of Blackstone Valley in Pawtucket; and Boys Town New England in Portsmouth can house about 20 children, though more than 200 cycled in and out of the shelters during fiscal 2010
The DCYF plans to convert the shelter operated by Boys Town into an emergency-response foster home by the end of this month, Aucoin said.
Casey Family Services, a private foster-care agency that has a $738,482 contract with the DCYF, has offered to provide additional training, at no extra charge, in caring for traumatized children to licensed foster parents who want to become immediate response homes. The training is scheduled to begin Feb. 28.
Beside Aucoin, the committee heard testimony from Frances Murphy, executive director of the Washington Park Children’s Shelter in Providence, who spoke on behalf of all three shelter operators.
Murphy read from a list of requirements for immediate-response foster homes. Everything on this list is exactly what the emergency shelters do, she said. Why reinvent the wheel when we ve been out there for 30 years?
She also questioned whether closing the shelters would save money. The average cost per night at an emergency children’s shelter is about $200 per child.
We re the lowest-paid providers in the state, Murphy said.
When former DCYF Director Patricia Martinez announced last November plans to close the three shelters by Jan. 15, the move was expected to save about $1 million.
First, we said we were doing this to save money, state Child Advocate Jametta O. Alston, testified. And then, we said this is a policy shift.
The cost of foster homes varies widely, Alston said. If a foster child turns out to be disruptive, she said, the foster parent could demand the state pay them a higher, therapeutic rate.
Alston suggested that the DCYF extend the shelter contracts on a pro-rated basis until October. If we have to close it, she said, let’s do it right.
The committee took no action.
February 16, 2011 Wednesday
Closing of children’s shelters delayed until June 30;
BYLINE: Providence Journal Staff
SECTION: NEWS; Local; Pg. 7
LENGTH: 660 words
HIGHLIGHT: One will be converted to an emergency-response foster home; Senate panel to discuss closings
PROVIDENCE Two of the state’s three children’s shelters will remain open until June 30, and a third will be converted into an emergency-response foster home for neglected or abused children, the state’s top child welfare official confirmed Tuesday.
The decision to rescind the Feb. 28 closing notice will give state child-welfare officials more time to train and license existing foster homes to provide the type of immediate response care needed to move children out of shelters, Kevin Aucoin, interim director of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, said. I don t want to rush into it, he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services is scheduled to hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday about the shelter closings. The committee will hear testimony about the plan from Aucoin, a shelter director and the state’s child advocate.
The three children’s shelters Washington Park Shelter in Providence; Children’s Shelter of Blackstone Valley in Pawtucket; and Boys Town New England in Portsmouth can house about 20 children, though more than 200 cycled in and out of the three shelters during fiscal 2010
The DCYF plans to convert the shelter operated by Boys Town into an emergency-response foster home by the end of this month, Aucoin said. The Boys Town shelter is run by a couple who live there with their own children. The couple will run the foster home, which would have a capacity of up to five children, he said.
Private child-welfare agencies around the state also have identified another 20 to 25 licensed foster homes that are available to take in children on a round-the-clock emergency basis, Aucoin said, and could begin taking in children by mid-March, he said.
By rescinding the shutdown order, the DCYF can continue to offer emergency shelter for young children, Aucoin said, while the agency expands its network of family-based emergency foster homes.
I m optimistic that we will have the immediate-response foster homes up and running and we will, hopefully, not have to rely on emergency shelters on July 1, Aucoin said. But I don t want to commit to it because I don t know That’s going to depend on what happens over the next four months.
The future of the Washington Park and Blackstone Valley shelters remains unclear. Aucoin said he has talked with the operators of the two shelters about converting them into centers that provide respite care, visitation or daycare for children in state custody.
Eileen Hernandez, executive director of the Children’s Shelter of Blackstone Valley, said Aucoin’s decision to allow the shelter to remain open until June 30 is good news, not great news.
He’s saying that if they find that the foster homes are being successful and taking care of everyone adequately, Hernandez said, then they would not need shelters. The Blackstone Valley shelter has a capacity of eight children, and has been pretty much full for the past couple of weeks, she said.
Frances Murphy, executive director of the Washington Park Shelter in Providence, said she wasn’t surprised to learn that the closing deadline was lifted.
I know they’ve been busy trying to recruit these emergency foster homes, Murphy said, I give them a lot of credit for realizing that they don t have a system in place to replace our existing, proven shelter programs.
Last November, former DCYF Director Patricia Martinez announced plans to close the shelters by Jan. 15, a move expected to save about $1 million.
That prompted an outcry from Rhode Island’s private foster-care providers, who said the state lacked a plan to find 35 to 45 more foster homes to care for the roughly 200 children a year who need emergency housing.
Shortly before taking office in January, Governor Chafee called for a slowdown of the shelter-closing process, and Aucoin, the new interim director, extended the deadline to Feb. 28. The shelters contracts with the DCYF expire when the fiscal year ends on June 30.