Isle child-welfare standards as high as ever
We appreciate Grace Gabat's long service and share the commitment to helping children and families in the Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Services. Unfortunately, she is mistaken about the department's kinship policy, which gives kin first consideration for foster or adoptive placement of children ("Gathering Place," Star-Bulletin, Oct. 25
The department's kinship policy is not new and follows the federally mandated best practices and evidence-based methods of 49 other states and the District of Columbia. What is new is the department's oversight and tracking to ensure that practice conforms to policy. In order to get the child welfare system into alignment with national standards for child safety, permanency and well-being, we needed to change behaviors quickly.
Most important, we have not reduced our standards of safety. Child safety is our first priority. Kinship caregivers must meet state safety licensing standards, which have not been reduced one iota. These are the exact same licensing standards required for nonkinship caregivers.
Research findings show that kinship care provides more stability, including fewer placement changes for children in their care. A study by the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center in 2005 found that children identified their relatives' homes as being stable. Kinship care promotes quality relationships and bonding with relative foster parents. Children in kinship care have been found to have greater family connectedness, for example, visitation with parents, siblings and other relatives, as well as maintaining community ties. There are also more permanency options available for children in foster care, such as guardianship and long-term foster care, which support the child's family connectedness.
In addition to increased contact with siblings and other family members supporting permanency, research findings show this increased contact with family for children in relative foster care also promotes their well-being. Likewise, siblings are more likely placed together in kinship care, which reinforces the family bond. Research also has shown that children in kinship care have less serious mental health and behavioral problems.
Gabat casually dismisses "research" as a basis for decision-making. If we can't rely on research, what else do we have? Our policies, which are aimed at producing results, are based on research and the best practices of experts such as child welfare professionals and providers, including social workers, university faculty and organizations such as the national federal resource centers and other groups that address child welfare issues.
It is in the child's best interest for us to rely on research and evidence-based best practices to improve outcomes in our child welfare system. We also depend on our partnership with Family Court judges who make the final decision on the placement of our children.
Gabat is absolutely correct when she says DHS is micromanaging the subjective decisions of our social workers. We proudly micromanage our staff to ensure conformity with federal child safety standards. These objective measures, unlike subjective personal experiences, are backed with years of research and evidence-based practices that keep children safe. Anyone who wishes to review our policies can go to our Web site and look under our Child Welfare section.