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DHS improvements praised in national review


By aggressively overhauling Hawaii’s child welfare system since 2003, the state Department of Human Services and its community partners have now met or exceeded all six federal standards required by the nationwide Child and Family Services Review.

Federal officials praised DHS director Lillian Koller and her staff, saying they were “extremely pleased with your [the department’s] progress.”

“Because the standards are set very high, only a small fraction of states meet all the federal requirements,” DHS Director Lillian Koller said. “The fact that Hawaii attained this lofty goal is a tribute to the hard work of our DHS staff and community-based social service partners.”

In a congratulatory letter to Koller, Acting Associate Commissioner Joseph J. Bock of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families praised DHS for its commitment to “systems change.”

“Meeting all of the national standards is a significant achievement,” Bock wrote. “We are extremely pleased with your progress, which is clearly leading to better outcomes for the children and families you are serving.”

When federal officials conducted their first onsite review of Hawaii’s child welfare system in July 2003, the state met only two of the six national standards. Those results prompted Koller to begin investing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) federal funds in a wide range of preventative social services provided by community-based organizations statewide.

This was the first time DHS spent TANF federal funds for such services, which fight poverty, prevent child abuse and neglect, strengthen families and help at-risk youth succeed in school and avoid crime, substance abuse and unwanted pregnancies.

When federal officials returned to Hawaii for their second onsite review in June 2009, they found “significant changes in practice,” Bock wrote, which enabled DHS to meet four of the national standards. A subsequent data analysis determined Hawaii had met all six standards.

These standards pertain to child re-abuse by family members, maltreatment in foster care, reunifying foster children with their families, stability of foster care, achieving permanent placements for children in long-term foster care, and timeliness of adoptions.

The extensive reforms brought about by DHS and its community partners safely reduced the number of children in foster care from 3,000 in 2005 to less than 1,400 today, eliminated the disproportionate representation of Native Hawaiian children in foster care, achieved one of the lowest rates of child re-abuse in the nation, and gained America’s number-one ranking in terms of timely adoptions for foster children.

“While we are proud of this progress, we are also very concerned that the budget approved by the Hawaii House of Representatives would destroy many of our gains,” Koller said.

The House budget would prevent DHS from spending more than $70 million in TANF federal funds on contracts with community partners. The Senate budget, by contrast, allows DHS to spend these funds, including the draw down of all $49 million in federal stimulus monies.

“The House budget would force DHS to cut our child welfare contracts by a staggering 52 percent,” Koller said. “That would severely undermine the progress we have made in reducing child abuse and neglect, while causing widespread layoffs in the nonprofit sector.

“Restricting our ability to spend federal dollars simply does not make sense,” Koller continued. “We need to invest that $70 million in programs that help Hawaii’s most vulnerable children and adults, and help revitalize our economy during the worst fiscal crisis in state history.”

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