After 2 Years, Child-protection Unit Regains Full License From The State

Posted: March 10, 1990

The Children and Youth Division of the city's Department of Human Services has been granted its first full license since the state Department of Public Welfare denied it a full license two years ago.

And, a mere 13 months after the state yanked the agency's provisional license and withheld $16 million, state officials are saying that in some areas, DHS has become a model for child welfare agencies across the commonwealth.

State Secretary of Public Welfare John F. White Jr. credited DHS Commissioner Joan Reeves with turning around the troubled agency.

"There is no question in my mind that it took the effective leadership she brought to that office, and it also took the commitment on the part of her line staff to get the job done," White said yesterday. "It demonstrates what can happen when the state plays a supportive role in helping counties like Philadelphia achieve such an important goal."

The one-year license, which was issued Thursday, means that the city agency has met - or is in the process of meeting - all the state's 27 performance requirements.

While city officials and child-welfare advocates praised the efforts of the current administration at DHS, they said the agency needed more state money to continue to meet state standards.

"It is a clear indication that with proper resources the department can perform at the level expected," Mayor Goode said.

Reeves, who was named commissioner of the department in September 1988, was notified yesterday that the license had been granted.

"We are very pleased with finally having received the certificate of compliance," she said. "All the staff in the Children and Youth Division who worked so hard to meet the requirements need to feel good about the work they have done and they should be commended by everyone for that work."

DHS had been operating under its fourth consecutive six-month provisional license. Under state law, the agency could have been taken over by the state if it had failed to obtain a full license this time.

The agency lost its full license two years ago after a panel of child-abuse experts appointed by White concluded that the city's child-welfare system had ''broken down."

In February 1989, saying that the agency was not complying with its own corrective plan, the state revoked DHS' provisional license and withheld $16 million in state funds. The provisional license and the money were restored in April after the state said the agency was making progress.

In December, as part of the licensing process, a five-member state panel reviewed 150 cases that had been randomly selected from the agency's files.

On the basis of that review, state officials said in January that DHS had met the license requirements in all but four of the 27 performance areas.

Specifically, the state panel said 8 percent of the DHS caseworkers in the emergency-intake unit had caseloads exceeding the state maximum of 30 cases. The state also said that 17 percent of the workers were above the caseload maximum in the family service centers, where cases are referred for foster care or counseling.

In addition, the state found that the agency had not succeeded in sufficiently reducing the number of cases in the intake unit and the family- service centers that had not been assigned to social workers.

City officials responded that the problems reflected the agency's staff shortage in the face of growing numbers of abused and neglected children. They said problems would be substantially eased by plans to add 79 positions using some of an additional $2 million in federal funds DHS is expecting.

State officials said their concerns were satisfied when they learned that 45 of those new positions would be social workers who would be hired and trained before the current fiscal year ends June 30.

George B. Taylor, deputy secretary for Children, Youth and Families, noted in a letter accompanying the city's license: "Over the past two years, not only has Philadelphia achieved full compliance with outcome standards specifically designed to protect children from risk and harm, but it has also emerged as a leader in this field."

He said a numerical scale the department devised to help social workers assess the risks to children whose cases had been reported over the agency's hotline had been endorsed by the state and adopted by other counties. Taylor also noted that DHS has been named a regional training center and would be training social workers from other counties.

Ironically, the full license comes as city officials are threatening to turn the agency's responsibilities over to the state if the legislature does not provide additional funding to protect abused children and to help troubled

families.

The state laws requiring counties to protect children from abuse and neglect say the state will pay 75 percent of the costs and the counties the rest. But the state legislature placed a limit on the state's contribution several years ago. As a result, counties have been paying an ever-larger share of the costs as the number of children in danger grows because of crack, homelessness and teen pregnancy.

Reeves has said that while the city paid $1.2 million of the state's share in fiscal 1984, the size of this so-called overmatch had grown to $17 million during the last fiscal year.

Councilman Angel Ortiz said of the new DHS license: "It just goes to show that the management criteria that the state has set have been met. . . . But the state has not met the requirements the state law sets."

He said he did not know whether the department would be able to keep its license without more state money.

Goode said that granting the full license "challenges the state to live up to its responsibility by providing the 75 percent funding for mandated services."

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