Thursday, June 4, 2009

DCFS Chooses Procedures over Substance

Recently the Department of Children and Family Services has been working on a pilot program to demonstrate that children will fair better if the residential treatment program includes parents in all phases of the child’s experience while in residence. In addition, the residential treatment program will follow the child’s return to the parents. It makes sense: the residential treatment program that knows the child in residence is better equipped to help the parents when the child returns home.

So I was hopeful that when Hillsides wraparound program was referred a child from another residential treatment center that DCFS would be open to and refer this child back to that residential treatment program for the follow up wraparound service. This was in line with this new movement of “the program that has the child in residence is the program that follows him home.”

I was wrong to assume that DCFS would follow sound substance over procedures.

It turned out that DCFS was not used to an agency turning down business in favor of another agency doing it. There was no clear cut procedure, so my attempt to refer the child back to the original agency was bungled and DCFS reaffirmed their decision to have Hillsides do the wraparound service.

Further attempts to get DCFS to “act in the best interest of the child” were ignored, in favor of following the proper procedures. This back and forth took four weeks of negotiations. Hillsides reluctantly opened the case when DCFS refused to reconsider, even though some of their administrators believed that it probably was in the best interest of the child for the other program to provide the wraparound services.

A few months ago, I praised DCFS for doing a study on the re-entry rate of children placed into the community from foster homes, kinship homes and group homes. It was an honest look at their practices and it came out of their concern that their re-entry rate rose from 4% to10% over a three year period. One of the major findings was that “there is a lack of after-care services to provide ongoing formal and informal support.”

What is most troubling about this situation is that, on the heals of releasing this report, the Department is unable to bend over backwards, jump through hoops, do what ever it takes to do what is clearly “in the best interest” of one of their clients.