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Child welfare system gains have cut foster-care numbers


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POSTED: Saturday, April 11, 2009

Improvements to Hawaii's child welfare system since 2003 have reduced the number of Hawaii children in foster care to a 16-year low and drawn a federal commendation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recognized the state Department of Human Services for making changes required after a 2003 assessment as part of a federal national Child and Family Services Review.

Federal and DHS officials developed a two-year Program Improvement Plan. A federal penalty of about $2.4 million could have been levied against Hawaii for not meeting the plan's goals, department officials said.

Completing them was “;a tremendous accomplishment for the Hawaii child welfare community,”; Acting Associate Commissioner Joseph J. Bock of the federal Children's Bureau said in a letter to Gov. Linda Lingle.

“;It is a milestone that signifies a number of years of dedication and commitment from Hawaii's DHS and its child welfare partners across the state,”; he said, commending DHS Director Lillian Koller and the staff of the Child Welfare Services Branch.

Before the improvements, the department removed children from their homes at up to four times the national rate with no improvement in safety, the DHS said.

The number of children in foster care has been cut in half, to 1,500 now from 3,000 in 2003, the department reported.

The child re-abuse rate also has decreased by half, to 3 percent, compared with the national standard of 6.1 percent.

Because of the dedication of the staff and partnerships with Family Court and community agencies, Koller said, “;our keiki are significantly safer and our families are stronger.”;

In preparations for a second federal Child and Family Services review in June, the DHS said it is focusing on:

» Giving parents resources to care properly for their children.

» Preserving cultural connections and family ties.

» Keeping siblings together in foster care.

» Improving stability of foster care placements.

» Continuing to carry out nationally recognized best practices.