D.C. Child And Family Services Agency:

More Focus Needed on Human Capital Management Issues for Caseworkers and Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention

GAO-04-1017: Published: Sep 24, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2004.

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The District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) is responsible for ensuring the safety and well being of about 3,000 children in its care and ensuring that services are provided to them and their families. In fiscal year 2003, CFSA's total budget was about $200 million. Concerns have been raised about CFSA's supply of caseworkers, the foster care and adoptive homes, and the quality and timeliness of mental health services for foster care children. To help address these issues, the Congress appropriated $14 million in fiscal year 2004 to CFSA, the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) specifically for foster care improvement. GAO examined CFSA's (1) strategies for recruiting, retaining, and managing its caseworkers; (2) efforts to license an adequate supply of safe foster and adoptive homes; and (3) efforts to collaborate with DMH and the Family Court to provide timely mental health services to foster care children. GAO also reviewed plans for and use of the federal foster care improvement funds.

CFSA actively recruited caseworkers and implemented retention strategies; however, caseworkers cited several management practices they said lowered their morale and adversely affected their ability to perform their duties. CFSA employed several recruitment approaches recommended by a number of child welfare organizations and exceeded most of its staffing goals for fiscal year 2003. Caseworkers cited high salaries and the training for new caseworkers as factors that encouraged them to remain at CFSA. However, GAO found a general consensus among the caseworkers with which GAO met that some management practices--poor communication, a lack of resources, poor supervision, and no rewards and recognition program--adversely affected their performance and morale. Agency officials said they had made some changes and were planning to take other actions to address these issues. CFSA has developed goals and strategies for recruiting new foster and adoptive homes and improved licensing requirements. CFSA has made progress licensing new families, although more families have stopped serving than expected. Further, CFSA does not have processes for identifying the reasons foster parents stop serving or for determining the effectiveness of its recruitment strategies. CFSA has standardized and raised licensing requirements for all foster and adoptive homes, but as of May 2004, 308 foster homes were unlicensed, with about 22 percent of CFSA's foster children residing in them. CFSA has begun collaborating with DMH and the Family Court to centralize and track mental health services for foster care children, but challenges remain to ensuring timely delivery. CFSA and DMH designed a standard process for referring foster care children to DMH for assessment and treatment and for tracking service delivery. DMH has also started expanding its service capacity for foster care children. For example, it has begun recruiting additional evaluators to perform assessments. While CFSA began using a database to track service delivery in August 2004, it has not analyzed the service delivery data collected on paper prior to August 2004 to determine whether foster care children were receiving timely services. Additionally, CFSA and DMH still face certain challenges, such as integrating caseworkers and Family Court judges into the new referral process. CFSA, DMH, and COG have spending plans that are consistent with the statutory language providing the federal funds, but only a small portion of the foster care improvement funds had been obligated or spent as of June 2004, in part because funding was not received until March 2004. Further, it is unclear how the District and COG plan to support some of these programs in the long-term because future funding is uncertain.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To build upon the improvements underway, the director of CFSA should address human capital management issues that affect caseworkers by establishing processes to consistently and effectively communicate information about agency operations and developing strategies to help ensure that supervisors fulfill their responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Child and Family Services Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CFSA officials reported that the agency has a significant number of strategies to communicate about agency operations. The officials reported that CFSA has several meetings to announce and discuss agency operations, including a monthly all-staff meeting that provides an opportunity to train employees on new initiatives, to establish priorities and expectations, and to roll out policies. Additionally, the officials reported that CFSA has two regular email communications that go to all staff--the "HR Insider" which focuses on administrative issues, and the "CFSA Reporter." These bi-weekly e-bulletins announce and/or update information about initiatives, changes, deadlines and events. Furthermore, according to the CFSA officials, the agency uses e-mails to address strategic topics and publishes a "Best Practices" periodical that includes summaries of new initiatives. As for its efforts to ensure that supervisors fulfill their responsibilities, in 2004, CFSA reported that it is providing additional training for supervisors to enhance their skills and that supervisors would participate in a peer review process where they will have an opportunity to review cases of their peers and provide feedback. In addition, CFSA said it is using its Performance Management Plans to ensure supervisors are held accountable. In August 2006, CFSA officials reported that each manager is to develop and communicate measurable and clear performance standards to each supervisor at the beginning of the evaluation period. In July 2008, CFSA officials reported that supervisors are holding weekly supervision meetings with Social Workers. These one-on-one meetings are intended to help with clinical supervision, so that social workers can ask for help and advice on their investigations or on-going case reviews. Also, CFSA explained that exit interview information is disseminated to supervisors and managers to help them address issues with recurring themes and that training opportunities for supervisors have been increased.

    Recommendation: To build upon the improvements underway, the director of CFSA should develop a systematic method to evaluate its foster parent recruitment efforts to help identify the most effective strategies.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Child and Family Services Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CFSA identified several approaches to evaluating its foster parent recruitment efforts. According to CFSA, its recruitment unit gathers and analyzes monthly statistics on the recruitment activities. Also, CFSA's Office of Policy, Planning and Program Support conducts an annual analysis of data gathered by the recruitment unit. Additionally, CFSA explained that a consultant conducted an analysis to determine the characteristics/tendencies/habits/traits of those most likely to adopt and foster children and based on this information it designed the recruitment strategies. Further, CFSA reported that it has developed a comprehensive recruitment plan that identifies the strategies and goals for recruiting foster and adoptive families for CFSA.

    Recommendation: To build upon the improvements underway, the director of CFSA should conduct exit interviews with foster parents who stop serving to identify the factors affecting their decisions and develop an action plan to address those factors that relate to systematic issues.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Child and Family Services Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to CFSA, its support workers began conducting exit interviews in 2006. Also, the Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, under a contract with CFSA, conducts a yearly satisfaction survey to capture data on parents' level of satisfaction with the services provided. In addition, CFSA noted several efforts to identify and address systemic issues raised by current parents. For example, CFSA reported that it established a foster parent support unit in October 2005 that collects data on calls from parents and, based on this information, suggests training topics for parents. Also, CFSA noted that its management meets with the foster parent leadership and advocacy group regularly to discuss systemic issues and keep them abreast of progress on issues.

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