In a report released Tuesday, lawmakers were shocked to discover that the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) a dramatic under-performance in the Western Region of the state.
The Western Region, which covers Juab, Millard, Utah, Wasatch, and Summit Counties, has seen a steady decline in overall performance over the last three years, but evaluators were taken by surprise by the results they received from the office.
Kristin Lambert, Program Manager for the Office of Services Review (OSR), told the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel that the Western Region office’s overall system performance declined from 79 percent—already below standard—to 67 percent., based on quality reporting standards. In short, overall satisfaction and effectiveness decreased based on several measures.
“We honestly did not anticipate the dramatic decline we saw in the Western Region this year” Lambert admitted.
Data gathered for the study was based on a rigorous evaluation process wherein an OSR reviewer would take representative samples of cases within a regional office, read case records, and conduct interviews with parents, foster parents, school staff, therapists, and youth to determine if case workers were doing all they could to provide the child with a healthy and stable environment in the long term—be it reintroduction with a child’s biological parent or parents, or with an adoptive family. This qualitative data would be reviewed and evaluated by other evaluators, and scores would be provided based on agreement. Quantitative data, such as simple yes/no questions such as “was the father of the child contacted” or “did the caseworker make a visit to a home outside of normal business hours” were also included in overall scoring to ensure that a complete picture of any of the DCFS’s five regional offices.
Lawmakers and policy analysts for the committee seemed to be in a state of disbelief at the findings, first questioning if the numbers were the result of sampling error, small sample size, or if reviewers somehow were artificially under-scoring results. “It’s representative,” Brad McGarry, Director of the OSR, told the committee, “we can say that the cases are the same…and we can draw conclusions based on that – it is not the luck of the draw.” Lambert added that “[she doesn’t] think you can game this review process…you can’t improve the numbers without improving the process.”
“This is a regional problem, not a statewide problem, that the attention really needs to be in that one region. It’s been a wake-up call,” Lambert added, “we are all excited to see what these implementation and intervention strategies that [OSR] have come up with for the Western Region will produce.”
Brent Platt, Director of the DCFS, was quick to point out that the buck stopped with him, noting that the data was not flawed and that there were legitimate shortcomings with the office, noting that he is working hard to bring greater accountability to the Western Regional Office.
“There seemed to be a lapse in making [case reviews] a priority,” Platt told the committee while sitting in the hot seat, noting that the Regional Director, Casey Christopherson, “feels bad about [the results] and was embarrassed.” Platt was confidant that scores had hit the lowest they would ever be for any department and that plans are already in place to provide quicker feedback to everyone along the chain of command to ensure that the department is providing quality service to children and their families. “There is scrutiny in that region that they haven’t seen in several years, there is 100 percent case review…If a case worker is struggling in one area, it’s possible that we will review their entire case load because we want to make sure we are doing what is right for these families,” Platt was quick to add.
Despite the shortcomings in the Western Region, Lambert and McGarry also noted in their report that the overall DCFS system was performing quite well and meeting the needs and expectations of many across the state – and that this may be exactly what the Western Region needs to get up to par. When committee member co-chair Representative Johnny Anderson (Republican – Taylorsville) asked if plans were in place to cross train from successful regions such as the South West, Northern, and Salt Lake, Platt noted that such ideas were already part of the overall strategy to improve the process for children and parents.
Overall, across the state, six of eight child status indicators improved and four out of the five regions scored above standards set forth for overall status, increasing from a score of 89 percent last year to 91 percent this year. “There isn’t one thing you can do that will improve these numbers,” Lambert noted, “you have to do a number of things well,” noting that improvement of numbers depends on accountability, leadership, attitude, training, expectations, and workload are just some of the things the state looks at when scoring DCFS.