The Rhode Island House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing right about now on DCYF and the deaths of children that had been on their radar.
One of the big problems seems to have been an inexplicable change – actually, abuse – of policy whereby the agency would pretend that a child was not, in fact, on its radar. The Providence Journal in March described it thusly.
The Department of Children, Youth and Families, experts say, has been misusing a policy under which it has classified everything from allegations of substance abuse to the death of child as an “information/referral” that does not warrant investigation.
At times this has been done in clear violation of state law.
While the number of reports of mistreatment have held relatively steady since fiscal 2014, 1,940 more reports in fiscal 2016 went without investigation under the policy that does not take into account whether multiple calls have been made about the same child or caretaker.
This was done presumably at the direction of the then-acting head of the department, Jamia McDonald, appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo. One of the big questions for the committee to pose, then, is why DCYF took this blind approach to new complaints.
However, inadequate staffing levels have almost certainly also contributed to the problem.
So what has happened on that front since Governor Raimondo took office? The Ocean State Current looked at staffing levels on the state’s transparency portal of three departments as of 2014 (just before Governor Raimondo took office) and as of 2017.
Staffing level of Department of “Children and Families”:
The staffing level of the office of “Child Advocate” increased by two from 2014 (seven FTE’s) to 2017 (nine).
Staffing level of the Department of “Administration”:
So the combined level of staffing of the “Children and Families” and “Child Advocate” departments dropped by eleven. But from 2014 to 2017, the staffing level of the Department of Administration rose by forty five.
The mission of the Department of Administration (side note: dudes, time to update your front page; the state budget has risen a squidge from the $7.5B that you indicate there) is
to manage the state’s financial, human and other resources in support of other state agencies carrying out their responsibilities to provide the citizens of the State of Rhode Island with the most responsive and cost effective services possible
and to provide “supportive services to all Rhode Island departments and agencies”. Important? Sure. More important than the safety of at-risk children? No, most people would agree.
So this becomes another DCYF-related question for Governor Raimondo, either to be posed during the Oversight Committee hearing or to be answered whenever the governor would like to clarify the priorities of her administration: what was happening at the Department of Administration that was, seemingly, more important than the operation of DCYF, an agency that has been fraught with operating problems and – literally, appallingly – perils to its young clients for years?