June 9, 2008

State of Alabama
Press Release: Human Resources, Department of

Federal Review Confirms DHR Child Welfare Progress

The Alabama Department of Human Resources is pleased to release the results of the Administration for Children and Families Children’s Bureau 2007 Child and Family Services Review (CFSR). The results of the Review confirm that DHR has continued to make substantial progress toward its goal of becoming the premier human services agency in the Southeast.

The Children’s Bureau stated that Alabama should take great pride in the areas found to be Strengths and determined that the State meets the national standard for the safety related data indicators as well as two of the national standards for the four data composites pertaining to permanency.

Alabama was also found to be in substantial conformity for the following systemic factors: Statewide Information Systems, Quality Assurance System, Service Array and Agency Responsiveness to the Community. The Children’s Bureau also stated that “the concerted efforts that Alabama has dedicated to improving child welfare policy and practice since the first round of CFSRs were clearly reflected in the Statewide Assessment and the on-site review.

The Children’s Bureau sets “very high standards” for a CSFR Review, far beyond minimum standards. In order to achieve a Strength rating, an agency must meet high standards for each of 7 Outcome Areas in at least 95% of its cases. Each Outcome Area has sub-parts or Items. In order to achieve substantial conformity on an Item, at least 90% of cases must be rated a Strength. Data Indicators are determined through reports submitted periodically by the State to Children’s Bureau. The State must meet National Standards set for each Data Indicator.

According to the CFSR Procedure’s Manual, states found to be in substantial conformity in all areas are reviewed every 5 years. Otherwise, states are required to undergo a full review 2 years after Program Improvement Plan (PIP) approval. The first round of reviews took place between 2001 and 2004; Alabama’s Review was conducted in 2002. No state achieved all CFSR standards in every category in the first round or to-date in the current round. In the last three-year federal CFSR, all 50 states fell short of the targets. (See, Children and Family Research Center, University of Illinois School of Social Work: “ Can AFCARS Be Rescued? Fixing the Statistical Yardstick that Measures State Child Welfare Performance,” March, 2008, p.29).

Following the 2002 CFSR, the State developed a PIP approved by Children’s Bureau on April 1, 2003. Focus areas for the 2003 PIP were based largely on enhancing specified training curricula, strengthening supervision, using data from the Department’s automated child welfare systems, strengthening certain policies, using QA data for measurement and evaluation, consultation and working with courts. The State completed all of the activities and reached required goals. As a result, in 2006 the State achieved the objectives required so that it received no sanctions for its performance.

The second round has set even higher standards for performance. Alabama’s performance in the second round again compares favorably with other leading child welfare state agencies. Further, at the exit interview, the 2007 CFSR team acknowledged that its findings are fully consistent with DHR’s self-assessment provided by the systems DHR already has in place, and the CFSR outcomes confirm the work plan that DHR already has in progress.

Alabama DHR remains committed to achieving the best outcomes for every child in every case. We are pleased with the overall outcome of our 2007 CFSR Review, and we already are working hard to improve even more. We are working closely with the Children’s Bureau and have already submitted a proposed PIP. As a result of the progress made over the past 5 years, DHR is now in a position to focus more resources on the later stages of case management after we have ensured the safety of the child and reunited families where possible. The new PIP will includes activities/goals related to later stage issues addressed by the CFSR report, including, for example, Timeliness of Adoption and Permanency for Children and Youth in Foster Care for Long Periods of Time.

One note of caution readers should be aware of in understanding the CRSR Reports is that the data are complex and difficult to interpret without some background. For example, as a result of Alabama’s early work in family reunification, generally only the most challenging cases reach the later stages of case management relating to permanency and termination of parental rights. Thus, the success of DHR’s performance in the early stages of case management actually skews the results in these later key performance indicators. Last month, the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois School of Social Work released a comprehensive study of problems within the CFSR measurement system. One of the most significant problems identified is in the measurements related to permanency. The study concludes that states with higher reunification rates will have lower scores in permanency, precisely because of their effectiveness in reuniting families. Finding that “[s]tates with removal rates closer to the national standard tended to exhibit higher removal rates than states further below that standard, which tended to exhibit lower removal rates”, the researchers then “surmised that states with higher rates of removal bring more children who are easily reunified into care, while states with lower rates may remove children who have the least prospects of remaining safely in their homes. This suggests that low-removal states . . . may have difficulty reaching the higher levels of reunification that are achievable by states that remove a larger proportion of children from their homes.” “ Can AFCARS Be Rescued? Fixing the Statistical Yardstick that Measures State Child Welfare Performance,” p.15.)

DHR remains committed to its mission to reunite families, as well as to keep children safe, and we work diligently to measure our performance in all critical areas. Over the last 5 years, the Agency has invested in establishing performance measures to track its progress. In fact, Alabama’s system of evidence-based management has been a model for many programs, including informing the construction of the CFSR measurements themselves.

DHR has underway, exciting and innovative programs that address some of the areas to be included in the PIP. We have dynamic new training programs that are adding to the training already in place. We have new collaborations in place with important partners such as the court system. And we are taking strong steps to address issues of permanency even in the most challenging of cases.

Every child is important to us and we are working hard every day to insure their safety, their welfare, the stability of their circumstances, and their opportunities for the future. We want all our stakeholders to know how we are doing. Therefore, a link to the entire 2007 CFSR can be found below.

We will be posting the 2007 CFSR PIP upon its formal acceptance and approval by the Children’s Bureau.

To view the entire Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), click here.

To view: “Can AFCARS Be Rescued? Fixing the Statistical Yardstick that Measures State Child Welfare Performance,” Click Here

  • For more information, visit http://dhr.alabama.gov
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