PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Saying she “inherited an agency in crisis… an extremely dysfunctional system,” Governor Raimondo on Thursday outlined a plan to radically reform the state’s troubled Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Steps already have been taken, Raimondo said, to “stabilize” a situation she described as demoralizing to line staff and a disservice, at best, to children and families involved with the agency.
“This is an overhaul; it’s not a tinkering,” the governor said. “This is a complete, fundamental restructuring and turnaround of DCYF.”
Among the myriad problems that need addressing, according to the governor: high rates of out-of-home placement, excessively long waits for children to be permanently placed, lack of support for family guardians, over-reliance on group homes, and poor morale among overburdened front-line staff, mostly social workers. Raimondo praised their work amidst trying circumstances.
Financially, DCYF also has failed, according to the governor.
“The state has been spending tens of millions of dollars on service contracts without any performance metrics in them,” she said. “No performance management.”
A state audit due to be released later on Thursday is expected to provide more detail on the agency’s dim financial picture.
“It’s just not right,” the governor said. “Every kid deserves a chance. These families and kids are facing unbelievable struggles. The way we’ve been delivering services – we’ve just been letting them down.”
Raimondo was accompanied by Elizabeth Roberts, secretary of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), and Jamia R. McDonald, EOHHS chief strategy officer who has been assigned to the DCYF since early this year and who serves as the agency’s de-facto head.
McDonald has been leading an analysis and planning process that also involves the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Deloitte Consulting, Casey Family Programs and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, all of which have offered their services to the state for free.
Two weeks ago, the governor announced a similar reform effort for the state Eleanor Slater Hospital, operated by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which, like DCYF, is a division of EOHHS.
The reforms were hailed by Benedict F. Lessing, Jr., president and CEO of Woonsocket-based Community Care Alliance, which provides an array of services to children and adults.
“We have not seen this level of transparency or acknowledgement that the manner in which the department does business must change in 25 years,” said Lessing, who is also acting head of the newly organized Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families, an advocacy group which represents nearly 30 organizations around the state.G. Wayne Miller