Our susceptible kids want a DCYF audit

Michael W. Chippendale and Julie A. Casimiro

House Minority Whip Michael W. Chippendale, a Republican, representing District 40. Rep. Julie A. Casimiro, a Democrat, represents District 31. Rep. Anastasia Williams, a Democrat, representing District 9 and Rep. Thomas Noret, a Democrat, the district represents representing 25, contributed to this comment.

The House Oversight Committee has been reviewing the work of the Department of Children, Youth and Family since 2016. The result of these reviews revealed enormous failures within DCYF – a direct connection with the unwillingness of the state to adequately support this agency.

Death, child trafficking, abuse, inadequate placement, overworked and unsupported social workers, and the inability to provide the mandatory services these children need indicate a clear and present crisis in our youth welfare office. This crisis has been exacerbated in recent years by nepotism, undeserved promotions, and the creation of unnecessary jobs. These tragedies are not the fault of our dedicated DCYF staff – they are the fault of the one-sided system and its failed leadership.

The time for reform has now come and for these reasons we propose a two-pronged approach to remedying the chaos that we know as the DCYF.

First, funds are needed to strengthen front-line staff and their support staff, and to improve the department’s outdated and broken down vehicle fleet. The children in our state’s care depend on these departmental investments and we must prioritize them until the dysfunction and waste are weeded out and corrected.

Second, and more importantly, a thorough top-down performance review needs to be done. We have asked the Auditor General for assistance and a clear plan has been drawn up to deal with this imperative. At least as much is thanks to the children in the DCYF care.

In 2019, legislators approved $ 500,000 to begin a DCYF accreditation process – a legal mandate since 2010. Regrettably, the administration appears to have made its own “assessment” and unilaterally decided that “too many” adjustments were required to to get the accreditation. Where did that $ 500,000 go and how was it used? That money could have been allocated to start the audit, but we have been informed that the funds are no longer with DCYF – a perfect example of why we need a thorough top-down inspection. A review of DCYF’s processes and organizational structure will give lawmakers a clear and unambiguous picture of what reforms are needed and then we can put a plan in place to fix the bugs.

How do we know reforms are okay? If we look at our neighboring state of Connecticut – a state that has 354% of the population of Rhode Island – child care costs $ 600,000 less than Rhode Island’s. That tells us everything we really need to know.

How many more children will have to die in the care of DCYF? How long will we accept the carousel of new directors and “management approaches” offered as excuses for the harm affecting children in DCYF care? When will the rhetoric end and focus on time for meaningful reform? Put simply, these vulnerable children – who have already suffered too much trauma and insecurity – not only need an exam from DCYF, they (and Rhode Island taxpayers) deserve it. It is time to stop the discourse on the agency’s failure and use our resources to rebuild DCYF as an effective and responsible intervention for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children.

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