After nearly two weeks of total silence following a bombshell report by the Providence Journal of child abuse by workers in Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF), Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has finally responded to bipartisan criticism of her lack of leadership. But in her response, Raimondo made no attempt to explain why she chose to hire unqualified individuals to lead the DCYF or why she ignored previous recommendations made by state officials to address the numerous glaring issues within the Department.
In 2015, Raimondo called the DCYF “dysfunctional” and “an agency in crisis” while calling for restructuring, but unfortunately, she did not take action to match her rhetoric. Earlier this year, Rhode Island’s Office of the Child Advocate released a report detailing how recommendations previously made to fix the DCYF were “yet to be executed” and that “issues with staffing and unmanageable caseloads persist and in some units, have worsened.” Despite being given clear recommendations to fix problems with the DCYF, the Raimondo administration did not take action, essentially ignoring a report that may have pointed out solutions for systemic issues with a Department that is now engulfed by scandal with young people in their care left “hospitalized, endangered or exploited.”
Unfortunately for Rhode Island’s at-risk youths, Raimondo still shows no signs of matching her action with her words. Just last week, WPRI-TV reported that shortfalls in Rhode Island’s new budget will leave the state unable to prevent what will likely be millions in budget cuts to the DCYF after Raimondo abdicated any leadership role in passing Rhode Island’s budget during the state legislature’s nearly month-long stalemate. While Raimondo continues her pattern of talking instead of taking action, ignoring recommendations to fix the DCYF’s scandalous failures with unmanageable caseloads and persistent group home problems, Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children continue to pay the price for her shameful lack of leadership.
A report from the Office of the Child Advocate released in March of 2017 revealed that DCYF had despite recommendations made by a State Senate Task Force, “issues with staffing and unmanageable caseloads persist and in some units, have worsened.” “In January 2015, the RI Senate Task Force for DCYF released numerous recommendations regarding caseloads and inadequate staffing after hearing months of testimony. The recommendations of the Task Force were outlined and emphasized in the report completed by the March 2016 OCA Child Fatality Review Panel, however, due to ongoing issues, this report will reiterate some of the same information previously provided. Despite the comprehensive recommendations of the Senate Task Force and the placement of a “Strategy Team” at DCYF to implement the necessary changes, issues with staffing and unmanageable caseloads persist and in some units, have worsened.” (Report: “A review of four child fatalities and two near fatalities,” Page 18, State of Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate, March 2017)
The report also revealed that several recommendations made nearly a year ago were yet to be executed “yet to be executed and remain relevant.” “The panel’s goal is to implement change to target systemic issues and ultimately improve the safety and well-being of children. It should be noted that in March 2016, the OCA completed a review of three (3) additional cases, also involving infants. This review was completed under the prior administration of the OCA. Although we commend the Department for implementing many of the recommendations made in the prior report just eleven (11) months ago, there are several vital recommendations, which have yet to be executed and remain relevant after analyzing the cases before the current Child Fatality Review Panel.” (Report: “A review of four child fatalities and two near fatalities,” Page 26, State of Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate, March 2017)
In 2015, Raimondo appointed two two staffers to lead the DCYF, neither of whom met state requirements for the Department’s director position. “In July, Governor Raimondo announced an overhaul of the agency she pegged as dysfunctional and rife with cost overruns and accountability concerns. She tapped Jamia R. McDonald in January to lead the department’s turnaround in a newly created $138,489-a-year job as chief strategy officer in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS)… For what it’s worth: state law requires the DCYF director to hold a master’s degree in social work or “a closely related field” and have “demonstrated experience” in child welfare, children’s mental health or juvenile justice. It remains unclear who, currently in leadership at the agency, meets those qualifications.” (Jennifer Bogdan and Katherine Gregg, “Political Scene: Overhaul ramps up at R.I.’s troubled child-welfare agency,” Providence Journal, September 27, 2015)
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