Initial investigations would still be conducted by DHS, and the agency would remain legally responsible for the children under its system. The plan is modeled after similar approaches in New York and Florida. But there are serious questions about whether it will work in Philadelphia. Between 2008 and 2011, 29 children in Philadelphia died from substantiated child abuse. DHS was involved in 12 of those cases.
Under the new program, called Improving Outcomes for Children, DHS will contract 10 private companies, which it calls community organizations, to deal directly with children in foster care and families who receive in-home services. Ambrose says the current system will be streamlined so families don't get mixed messages from working with several case workers and agencies.
Families will be assigned to community organizations in their neighborhoods, which should make it easier for them to attend meetings closer to home and build trust with social workers. In turn, their proximity should allow contracted agencies to forge better relationships in the community and identify problems earlier.
It is hoped that the plan will clarify roles and responsibilities to prevent the missteps that occurred with Danieal. The 14-year-old child with cerebral palsy weighed only 46 pounds when her bedsore-covered corpse was found in a rundown rowhouse. DHS and the private contractor assigned to her case failed. Her parents and several DHS workers and contractors were later convicted on criminal charges.
By phasing the plan in over four years, Ambrose will have time to make changes as necessary. She also told the Inquirer Editorial Board she wouldn't hesitate to scrap the strategy if it doesn't work. That's the right attitude.
DHS must make sure its contractors and subcontractors are doing their jobs - and when they aren't, it must act before a child is harmed. DHS has for decades used outside agencies to handle cases, but never to this extent. To make it work, DHS must provide better supervision than it has.