Boston – As the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families struggles with ways to get on top of an unsustainable caseload and shortage of staff, a new report highlights the key levers for change that other states that have experienced similar crises have used in order to move forward.
The latest report in the Boston Foundation’s “The Utility of Trouble,” released today at an Understanding Boston forum, is titled From Crisis to Opportunity: Child Welfare Reform in Massachusetts. It compares the practices of the Commonwealth’s Department of Children and Families with those of similar state agencies across the nation and recommends five areas for possible reform. It was prepared by a Washington D.C.-based think tank, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, for the Boston Foundation and Strategic Grant Partners.
“There is general agreement that DCF has much work to do in order to effectively serve the state’s children,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation on the report’s release. “We hope that rather than piling on to the critiques already leveled against the agency, we have been able to surface some ways that states in similar situations have been able to reinvent their child welfare systems.”
“The numbers alone demonstrate why the Department of Children and Families is failing its clients and the Commonwealth today,” add Joanna Jacobson, Founder and Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners. “But unacceptably high caseloads, inefficient data systems, low accountability and low morale are not permanent conditions. This report not only demonstrates that the issues we face today are fixable, it gives a number of models that can be used to chart a path of reform.”
Recent studies from the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) among others have noted the sharp increases in foster care placements, unsustainably high caseloads, issues with resource allocation and lack of actionable performance data at Massachusetts DCF. Rather than revisit those, the report seeks to highlight those states and agencies that have implemented significant reform when faced with similar scenarios.
The report highlights five key levers for change, and provides examples of how other child welfare agencies have developed innovative methods to address them.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy researchers, led by Judith Meltzer, Deputy Director, cited five levers for needed change and explored examples in which states and organizations implemented reforms. Among them:
Simultaneous action on these levers is essential, the researchers conclude.
“Just as the child welfare agency cannot act in isolation of other agencies, providers, the community and families, focusing on one change lever alone will not produce success. Nor will the desired results and renewed public trust occur overnight — but beginning with a collaborative commitment and approach to the work can enable multiple stakeholders to come together and hold each other mutually accountable to launch and sustain the commitment, energy and resources necessary for substantial and sustained reform.
The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of some $1 billion. In 2014, the Foundation and its donors made more than $112 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of nearly $112 million. In celebration of its centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation has launched the Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, Greater Boston’s only endowment fund supporting organizations focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston. The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with nearly 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.
The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener and sponsor of special initiatives that address the region’s most serious challenges. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), an operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.
Strategic Grant Partners (SGP) is both a foundation and a pro bono consulting firm. The SGP Mission is to partner with outstanding leaders with game changing ideas that improve the lives of struggling individuals and families. SGP’s goals are to: incubate promising ideas in Massachusetts with the potential for effectiveness; invest in Massachusetts nonprofits with evidence of effectiveness; help Massachusetts organizations with demonstrated effectiveness to disseminate their learnings and/or scale up their models for national impact; invest in national organizations with proven effectiveness expanding into Massachusetts; and invest in work that alters public systems in ways that are directly tied to positive changes for children and families. For more information, visit strategicgrantpartners.org or call 857-202-6230.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) is a national, nonprofit organization recognized for its leadership in shaping policy, reforming public systems and building the capacity of communities. For more than 30 years, CSSP has influenced and supported elected officials, public administrators, families and neighborhood residents to take the actions they need. Based in Washington, D.C., CSSP translates research and new ideas into strategies for on-the- ground implementation. We use the knowledge from those real experiences to better inform the next generation of ideas, programs and policies. CSSP’s goal is to make sure low-income children can learn, develop and thrive with the support of strong families in safe and healthy communities. To achieve this, CSSP focuses on those who face the most significant barriers to opportunity, including ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants and refugees, families in poverty and families in contact with intervening public systems (e.g. child welfare, juvenile justice). For more information, visit cssp.org. or call 202-371-1565.