State examines flaws
in child welfare system

Reforms include more social worker
contact and additional training

A highly critical federal review of the state Child Protective Services is prompting the state to undertake an unprecedented reassessment of how it looks after the welfare of children in Hawaii.

In July, the U.S. Department of Human Services' Administration for Children and Families released its initial findings, which found the CPS system suffered from higher worker case loads, a shortage of foster homes and a lack of resources.

The federal agency, which plans to issue the written findings to the state within the next month, mandated that the state implement major reforms, or a program improvement plan, to address its concerns or face the prospect of losing federal funding.

"This is not just one person changing how they do business," said Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, which oversees CPS.

"This is not just one agency. This is a child welfare system that also involves the Judiciary, the family courts, the private vendors who give us the support services we need, foster parents, schools and the health care providers. How do you go about changing this system and not just having an action plan that's a piece of paper that gets put on a shelf?"

During a two-day conference that began yesterday, the Department of Human Services outlined some of the proposed reforms to its Child Welfare Services branch, which investigates more than 6,000 cases of child abuse and neglect each year. They included:

>> Increased state social worker contact with families and children to reduce the recurrence of abuse and neglect and cut down on the amount of time required to reunify families.

>> Additional on-the-job training and supervision for state social workers to curb high turnover.

>> Increased recruitment and training for foster parents and adoptive parents.

>> Increased reliance on ohana conferencing, a form of counseling that relies on a network of family and friends. According to Koller, expanded use of this method could divert troubled families from the CPS system, while offering them the treatment and counseling they need.


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