D.C. Child and Family Services:

Better Policy Implementation and Documentation of Related Activities Would Help Improve Performance

GAO-03-646: Published: May 27, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2003.

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The District of Columbia (D.C.) Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) is responsible for protecting children at risk of abuse and neglect and ensuring that services are provided for them and their families. GAO was asked to discuss the extent to which CFSA has (1) met requirements of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 and other selected performance criteria, (2) adopted and implemented child protection and foster care placement policies, and (3) enhanced its working relationship with the D.C. Family Court. To address these questions, GAO analyzed data from CFSA's child welfare information system, known as FACES; reviewed laws, regulations, and reports; examined case files; and interviewed officials.

CFSA's performance relative to three sets of measures--nine ASFA requirements, eight selected performance criteria and six of the agency's foster care policies--has been mixed. The agency took actions to implement six of the nine ASFA requirements related to the safety and well-being of foster children and met or exceeded four of the eight selected foster care performance criteria, but its plans did not address all requirements not fully implemented and unmet performance criteria. CSFA has established many foster care policies, but caseworkers did not consistently implement the six GAO examined. In addition, FACES lacked data related to four of the policies reviewed for at least 70 percent of its active foster care cases. CFSA has enhanced its working relationship with the D.C. Family Court, but several factors hindered this relationship. For example, CFSA's top management and Family Court judges talk frequently about foster care case issues. However, differing opinions among CFSA caseworkers and judges about their responsibilities have hindered the relationships. CFSA officials and Family Court judges have been working together to address these hindrances.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CFSA's June 2005 quality assurance report identified several steps the agency has taken to improve its performance and outcomes for children in accordance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). CFSA reported that in 2004 it identified all cases of children and youth who had been in foster care beyond the ASFA time frames and established a system for reviewing non-compliant cases. A team of Assistant Attorneys General began collaborating with social workers to determine whether to file a TPR or take other actions to achieve permanent homes. CFSA reported that as of February 2005 this team had reviewed 418 of the 448 non-compliant cases and TPR proceedings had been initiated for 160 of the 418 cases. Second, CFSA reported that it has implemented family team meetings as a way to provide participants a way to be heard. Specifically, these meetings provide parents, extended family members, and friends an opportunity to participate in decisions about how to protect children, and what services and support they need. These meetings are used to determine whether or not to remove a child from his or her home or whether to change his or her placement. These meetings may satisfy the ASFA requirement to provide participants with a notice of review and hearing and an opportunity to be heard. In addition, in a February 2006 testimony by the CFSA Interim Director before the D.C. City Council, she indicated that CFSA had established internal quality assurance procedures to track many performance indicators and help managers evaluate how well the agency is serving children and families. Reports from the quality assurance processes are reviewed regularly by CFSA's managers to help them focus on meeting established requirements. According to the February 2006 statement, the percentage of CFSA's children that received a timely permanence court hearing increased from 57 percent in May 2001, to 94 percent at the end of calendar year 2004, and to 98 percent at the end of 2005.

    Recommendation: To improve CFSA's performance and outcomes for foster care children in the District of Columbia, the Mayor should require the Director of CFSA to develop plans to fully implement all ASFA requirements.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Executive Office of the Mayor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2004, Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) reported that it developed a quality assurance plan to become an effective self-assessing and continuously improving organization. The plan calls for adding regular qualitative reviews to the collection of quantitative information. CFSA also reported that it has developed a series of management reports that will alert its management team to areas in need of further improvement. In addition, in its comments on another report (GAO-04-1017) CFSA noted that it has a multi-faceted approach to policy dissemination. CFSA reported that it presents new policies in several ways, such as meetings with supervisors, monthly staff meetings, training sessions, notices in CFSA's employee newsletter, and computer system notifications. According to the CFSA Interim Director, diligent focus on case work has been one of the agency's top priorities. In January 2006, CFSA created the Office of Organizational Development and Practice Improvement. This office focuses on strategies for improving practice and ensuring continuous quality improvement throughout CFSA.

    Recommendation: To improve CFSA's performance and outcomes for foster care children in the District of Columbia, the Mayor should require the Director of CFSA to establish procedures to ensure that caseworkers consistently implement foster care policies.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Executive Office of the Mayor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2004, Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) reported that it now includes historical data on foster care cases in court reports, and that these court reports are now completed in its automated system--FACES. Also, in July 2006, CFSA's Chief of Staff reported that workers' performance plans now include a requirement to enter data into FACES in a timely manner.

    Recommendation: To improve CFSA's performance and outcomes for foster care chilren in the District of Columbia, the Mayor should require the Director of CFSA to document in FACES all activities related to active foster care cases, including information from paper case files related to the history of each active foster care case.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Executive Office of the Mayor

 

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