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NJ child-welfare agency doing better job protecting kids, monitor says

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Fourteen years ago, the state Division of Youth and Family Services, DYFS, was placed under the supervision of a federal monitor after a series of shocking and disturbing incidents came to light about child abuse and neglect.

The overhaul of the state’s child welfare system has been ongoing ever since, and officials say great progress has been made.

The latest federal monitor report finds for the first time that the newly named Department of Children and Families has satisfied all performance measures on caseloads and in areas at the earliest stage of a family’s involvement with the child welfare system.

“Our staff has much smaller caseloads. They’re a very professionalized workforce that has some finely honed skills and competencies,” said Allison Blake, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

She said foster care placements have been dramatically cut, in part because social workers now have the opportunity and training to a better job with the clients they serve.

“They have much more time to work in partnership with families, today the majority of children that we work with are living in their own homes with their own families.”

Blake pointed out compared to 14 years ago, there has been more than a 40 percent decrease in the number of children in foster care.

“That’s a good thing because we know they thrive, they do better when they’re living in family environments,” she said.

Blake said social workers, more than ever before, are focused on “strengthening families, and helping them to live successful and productive lives in their communities rather than seeing children have to go into out-of-home placements.”

She said a federal monitoring report issued last month shows continuing progress is being made to reduce worker caseloads and complete case plans.

“We’re in a place now where we’ve met over 70 percent, I think it’s 73 percent of the measures, and so there are 16 measures left to be achieved,” she said.

Blake didn’t specify what those measures are, but she indicated continued progress is anticipated when her Department meets with the federal monitor again later this summer.

“The people of the state of New Jersey should know that they can be proud of their child welfare agency, and of the staff who are working on behalf of the children and families. We’re working very hard to strengthen families and keep children safe.”

She pointed out the last time they were in court reviewing the findings of the report, “the judge said that he was so pleased with the progress that had been made and sustained that he really feels that we’re on the threshold of becoming a model child welfare agency for the nation.”

Blake said the bottom line is when caseworkers aren’t overburdened, “they can really access the needs of families and put services and resources into the home, engage with kinship caregivers, family friends and relatives to support those children and families.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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