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Hawaii reforming child welfare service


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POSTED: Saturday, October 24, 2009

A report citing increased child abuse, neglect and fatalities across the country does not reflect major child welfare reforms and improvements in Hawaii, says a state Department of Human Services official.

The Every Child Matters Education Fund said 10,440 children were known to die in the United States from abuse and neglect between 2001 and 2007, including 32 in Hawaii, and the national figure possibly was 50 percent higher.

In 2007, it reported, four children died in Hawaii of abuse — a rate of 1.4 per 100,000 children in the state.

“;The report said we can do better, and we are already doing better,”; said Amy Tsark, Child Welfare Services Branch administrator. She said there were two child abuse deaths in Hawaii last year.

Confirmed child abuse and neglect cases in the islands dropped to 2,075 in 2007 from 3,930 in 2001 “;from all the tremendous investment we made,”; she said.

Every Child Matters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, said many child deaths could have been prevented if states had resources to comply with federal child welfare standards.

A two-day summit was held this week in Washington, D.C., for national child protection and law enforcement leaders, educators, policymakers and others to identify policies and resources needed to reduce deaths from child abuse and neglect.

Loretta Fuddy, chief of the Family Health Services Division in Hawaii's Health Department and a board member for the Association of Maternal Health and Child Programs, was on a panel looking at the issues.

“;Even in difficult economic times we need to prioritize protection of the most vulnerable, which are young children,”; she said before leaving for the summit. Health reform bills being debated in Congress increase funding for home visitations to address problems, she said.

Tsark said Hawaii's child welfare services underwent a federal review in 2003 and again this year in terms of safety and protection of children.

She described multiple strategies to improve the system, such as convening ohana conferences when Child Welfare Services begins an investigation. The Human Services Department has a partnership with EPIC Ohana Conferencing to convene a family meeting with parents, grandparents, fellow worshippers or others in the community for a support system, she said.

They discuss what can be done to help the parents, whether the child must be removed from the home and, if so, whether a family member can be licensed to take the child to maintain a family and cultural connection, she said.

Federal officials commended the program because it engages families and the community, and the state has just received one of nine family connection grants — $450,000 a year for three years — to improve family ohana conferencing, Tsark said.

Such efforts help keep a child from further abuse, officials say.

Hawaii had a re-abuse rate of 6 percent in 2003 — just under the national standard of 6.1 percent — and it was 3.1 percent this year, Tsark said. “;We have one of the lowest re-abuse rates in the nation.”;

She said Human Services Director Lillian Koller “;has invested millions of dollars in services available to non-CPS families, getting ahead of the game having services out in the community for families having problems before they're identified (as) at risk.”;

Koller allocated 25 percent — $100 million a year— from a federal block grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, for child abuse prevention and family strengthening and support services, Tsark said.

States are allowed to invest 10 percent of the grant in child welfare services, and Koller transferred that amount — about $9.8 million per year — into those services, Tsark said.

She said the money was leveraged to adopt the federal review process and do minireviews of the department's nine statewide child service sections. “;If there is a problem, we can target a solution.”;

The Human Services Department collaborates with Family Court, the Judiciary, the native Hawaiian community and other community partners, Tsark said.