Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2015, Child and Family Services Agency

Testimony of Bonnie O’Keefe, Senior Policy Analyst, DC Action for Children

Agency Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year 2015

Child and Family Services Agency

Before the Committee on Human Services

Council of the District of Columbia

April 14, 2014

Good afternoon, Chairman Graham and members of the Committee on Human Services. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the proposed FY15 budget for the DC Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). My name is Bonnie O’Keefe; I am a senior policy analyst at DC Action for Children. 

DC Action for Children (“DC Action”) provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth, to promote policies and actions that optimize child and family well-being. 

DC Action is the home of DC KIDS COUNT, which tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being in the DC neighborhoods where children live, learn and grow. We work closely with District agencies, the school system and service providers to share the most accurate and timely data, along with clear and accessible analysis. Our advocacy agenda is based on these data.

As part of DC KIDS COUNT, DC Action tracks data on children in foster care, and trends in child abuse and neglect. We, like many others, have been impressed by the progress of CFSA under the leadership of Director Brenda Donald. With their “four pillars” philosophy guiding a shift towards more preventative, comprehensive services for children and families, CFSA has successfully decreased the number of children in foster care, increased kinship care, safely reunited more children with their families and exited more foster children into permanent homes. 

CFSA has achieved these goals with the support and partnership of many critically important community-based agencies and service providers, particularly the Healthy Families/Thriving Communities Collaboratives. 

We want to recognize Director Donald and her team for these achievements in a budgetary environment that has tended to punish their success in past years by reprogramming money saved through better preventative services into other agencies. This practice is short-sighted; we believe it has made it difficult for CFSA to reinvest in programs that are working, and to further increase the quality of services to children and families where it had previously fallen short. 

Title IV-E Waiver Will Fund Critical Investments to Prevent Abuse and Neglect

In the proposed FY15 budget for CFSA, the budget from local funds stays relatively constant, while the Federal IV-E Foster Care Grant Waiver will net an increase of 11.4 million dollars and allow CFSA the flexibility to invest substantially in more community- and home-based preventative services and quality improvements.    

“Title IV-E Waiver” is not the catchiest name for such an important budgetary and programmatic development, as Director Donald herself admitted at a recent budget briefing, but we need only look at CFSA’s performance goals to see its potential impact:

Children housed in kinship care with relatives increasing from 16% in FY12 to a projected 35% in FY15.

Investigations opened within two days increasing from 70% in FY12 to a projected 95% in FY14 and FY15. 

Average months to reunification decreasing from over a year in FY12 to less than 6 months in FY15.

Community-Based Strategies Are Central to Prevention

The strategies CFSA will use to achieve these ambitious goals are grounded in evidence-based practice and common sense. Prevention of abuse and neglect is better for children, and less expensive than intervention. Families need comprehensive support services in their communities to become stronger and more stable. For this reason we are happy to see CFSA propose to expand their preventative programs with community agencies like the Collaboratives, and partner with the Department of Behavioral Health and the Department of Health to staff Collaboratives with mental health clinicians and infant/maternal health specialists. 

Early Childhood Home Visiting is an Important Investment

As members of the DC Home Visiting Council, we are also happy that CFSA plans to double their support for early childhood home visiting, increasing funding for home visiting programs from 85 to 160 families. Evidence-based early childhood home visiting has had proven positive results in DC and in jurisdictions across the country, at increasing school readiness, decreasing instances of abuse and neglect and improving child health outcomes. CFSA cannot start early enough:

In FY2012, 230 DC infants and toddlers were in foster care.  

Foster care can cost $12,000-24,000 a year per child, while a high-quality home visiting program to keep children out of the system costs less than $5,000 per family.

With this in mind, we think even more support for home visiting by CFSA would be a wise investment. As CFSA expands support for these vital programs, we urge the agency to keep lines of communications open with service providers and with DOH and OSSE, the other DC agencies who fund home visiting programs, to coordinate services and strategies.  

Further Areas for Support and Investment

While we look forward to seeing what can be achieved in FY15 with the support of the IV-E Waiver, there are clearly still many areas for improvement. Every day, children still slip through the cracks of our system. Too many foster youth are aging out of care without a plan for future education or employment. Educational outcomes for foster children of all ages are not nearly where we hope they would be. We cannot rely only on the fiscal support of the federal government to solve these problems. In an era of unprecedented surpluses in DC, we are somewhat disappointed that what we see in local investment in our most vulnerable children and families is “the same as before.” Surely, DC can do better.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, I’m happy to answer any questions.

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