Since 2016, the House Oversight Committee has been reviewing operations of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The result of these reviews exposed tremendous failures within DCYF — a direct correlation to the state’s unwillingness to properly support this agency.
Deaths, child-trafficking, abuse, inappropriate placements, overworked and unsupported social workers and an inability to provide the obligatory services these children require indicate a clear and present crisis in our child welfare agency. This crisis has been exacerbated by nepotism, unearned promotions and the creation of unnecessary positions in recent years. These tragedies are not the fault of our dedicated DCYF staff — but the one-sided system and its failed leadership.
The time for reform is now, and for these reasons we are proposing a two-pronged approach to fix the mess we know as DCYF.
First, funding is needed to boost the front-line staff and their support staff, and to improve the department’s aged and broken-down vehicle fleet. The children in the care of our state depend on these departmental investments, and we must prioritize them until the dysfunction and waste are rooted out and corrected.
Second, and more important, a thorough top-to-bottom performance audit must be executed. We asked the auditor general to assist us, and a clear plan has been identified to tackle this imperative task. The children in DCYF care are owed at least this much.
In 2019 the legislature appropriated $500,000 to begin a DCYF accreditation process — a legal mandate since 2010. Regrettably, it appears the administration did its own “assessment” and made the unilateral determination that it would require “too many” adjustments to gain accreditation. Where did the $500,000 go and how was it used? This money could have been allocated to start the audit, yet we were informed that the funds are no longer with DCYF — a perfect illustration of why we need a thorough, top-down inspection. A review of the processes and organizational structure of DCYF will offer the legislature a clear and unambiguous picture of what reforms are needed, and then we can execute a plan to correct the failures.
How do we know reforms are in order? When we look at our neighboring state of Connecticut — a state with 354% of Rhode Island’s population — their Child Welfare agency costs $600,000 less to run than Rhode Island’s. That tells us all we really need to know.
How many more children must die in the care of DCYF? How long will we accept the merry-go-round of new directors and “management approaches” offered as excuses for the harm affecting children in DCYF care? When will the rhetoric end and the time to act on meaningful reforms take center stage? Simply put, these vulnerable children — who have already suffered too much trauma and uncertainty — not only need an audit of DCYF, they (and the taxpayers of Rhode Island) deserve it. The time has come to stop the discourse on the agency's failures and to use our resources to rebuild DCYF as an effective and accountable intervention for Rhode Island’s most at-risk children.