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Proposed FY2014 Budget Request Hearing

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Testimony of Director Brenda Donald

Proposed FY2014 Budget Request
Committee on Human Services
Jim Graham, Chair
April 24, 2013
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 123
Washington, DC 20510-6250

Good afternoon, Chairman Graham and members of the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Human Services. I am Brenda Donald, director of the DC Child and Family Services Agency. I'm here to present Mayor Gray's proposed FY14 budget for protecting and serving abused and neglected children and their families in our city.

To support continued growth throughout the District, Mayor Gray's FY14 budget submission focuses on three priorities: (1) growing and diversifying the economy, (2) educating children and youth and preparing the workforce for a new economy, and (3) improving the quality of life for all residents. As part of those priorities, the proposed budget I'll present today fully addresses CFSA's funding needs for FY14.

Agency Overview

CFSA serves as a first-responder and safety net for child victims of abuse and neglect, meeting federal and local mandates to provide four critical functions.

  • We take and investigate reports of child abuse and neglect 24 hours a day.
  • In cooperation with other child-serving agencies, we provide services that help families overcome crises, break the cycle of abuse and neglect, and keep children safe.
  • Also in cooperation with community partners, we provide temporary homes for children and youth who can't safely remain with their families. While these children and youth are in our care, we look after their health, mental health, education, and overall growth and development.
  • Finally, we move children out of temporary care and back to families as quickly as possible through reunification with parents, guardianship (often with relatives), or adoption.

CFSA is a public agency on the front lines, routinely confronting challenging social issues in order to protect and assist vulnerable District residents.

CFSA is unique in that both the local and "state" public child welfare agencies are under our roof. We're currently serving 3,195 children and youth, 1,797 (56 percent) at home and 1,398 (44 percent) in foster care.

Overview of Proposed Budget

Our proposed FY14 budget is strategy-based, directly supporting the key priorities of our Four Pillars agenda as well as requirements of the LaShawn lawsuit. As you know, the Four Pillars are designed to deliver what all of us want most for the children, youth and families CFSA serves—measurable positive outcomes. Briefly, here are the desirable bottom lines of each Pillar.

  •  The first pillar is the Front Door, which stands for keeping more families together and removing children only when they can't be safe at home.
  • When we must remove children for their safety, their stay in care should be as short as possible. Temporary Safe Havens, the second pillar, prompts us to start on Day 1 to plan for the child's return to a permanent home.
  • Pillar number 3—Well Being—speaks to quality in looking after children while they are in CFSA care. Government can never be the optimal parent, but we must do all we can to support good health and academic achievement and to ensure that the childhood of all young people in foster care is as normal as we can make it.
  • Finally, Exit to Permanence is about returning children to their parents, relatives, or a new family quickly, safely, and for good. It includes transitioning older youth out of care prepared to succeed. And it includes post-permanency supports that prevent re-entries into care and assist young adults who have left care if they need it.

As you will hear later in this testimony, our proposed budget includes several strategic investments to help achieve these priorities.

The overall FY14 budget request for CFSA is $241.2 million, a 6 percent decrease from our FY13 approved budget of $257.1 million. Of this budget request, $174.5 million is Local funding, or 8.7 percent less than FY13. Federal Grant funds total $54.7 million, just slightly higher than in FY13. The remainder of the budget requests consists of $10.8 million in Intra-District funds and $1.2 million in "Special Purpose" funds, both remaining flat from FY13.

Adequacy of Budget Request

To anticipate your primary question: How can I come before you today confident about the adequacy of an FY14 budget request that is $15.8 million less than CFSA's approved budget for FY13? I have four reasons.

First, the District has fewer children and youth in care. Continuing a steady decline of the last several years that reflects a national trend, the DC foster care population dropped by 20 percent—or 350 children and youth—in FY13. Since costs for a child in care average approximately $55,000 annually, a declining foster care population means lower overall costs.

Second, we have right-sized our most expensive services. Placement is our high-ticket item, especially therapeutic and congregate care. Clearly, fewer children and youth in care mean a declining demand for placement slots. At the same time, when we must remove children, we're making more placements with relatives or in DC foster homes—lower-cost options that serve children better in many cases. In FY12, we budgeted $91 million for placements and spent only $71.9 million. As a result, for FY13, we right-sized provider contracts and reduced our placement budget to $74 million. So far this year, we're on track to underspend that amount, so we're requesting $55 million for FY14. That's based on a projected foster care population of 1,380 children, more placements with kin, and shorter lengths of stay—all part of the Four Pillars strategic agenda.

Third, we are managing for greater efficiency and effectiveness. Our drive for measurable outcomes for children and youth has made us very selective about investing in programs and services. We've ended several large legacy contracts that weren't meeting child or family needs. In addition, we've re-negotiated provider budgets to reduce unnecessary, marginal, or duplicative services while leveraging federal revenue claiming.

And finally, we are maximizing claiming of federal revenue overall. The largest pot of federal funding for child welfare comes from Title IV-E. CFSA has greatly improved our ability to claim IV-E dollars—for example, in new categories that we hadn't used before. What's remarkable is that IV-E dollars are tied to the number of children and youth in care, but even while the District foster care population declines, we continue to draw down roughly the same amount of IV-E funding. Clearly, we can't do that forever, so CFSA has applied to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families for a IV-E waiver. That will allows us to use federal funds as partial support for the necessary shift in local child welfare from a foster care system to a community-based preventive and family services system.

For all these reasons, our FY14 request represents a right-sized budget for CFSA. I am confident that it will support child and family needs, our strategic drive for improved outcomes, achievement of the remaining LaShawn benchmarks, and the early stages of our evolution from a foster care focus to a family services focus.

Investments

In fact, even with rightsizing, an important aspect of CFSA's proposed budget is a series of new investments that directly support better outcomes for children and youth. Each investment represents a strategy in line with our Four Pillars agenda.

To support of our drive to narrow the front door, two new investments will allow us to assist some families promptly instead of bringing children into care.

  • $400,000 will help to eliminate barriers for relatives willing to take children who have come to CFSA attention.
  • $125,000 will make legal services available to families facing eviction, utility shut-off, or other issues when resolving those problems will keep children out of the system.

An additional $600,000 will increase the overall budget of the Grandparent Subsidy Program by 10 percent, fully funding increases in monthly payments that we granted last year.

With regard to temporary safe havens, by ramping up support for foster parents, we hope to recruit more foster homes in the District and to reduce the number of placements youth experience.

  • $500,000 will support city-wide expansion of our Family Connections program. This is a variation of our successful Mockingbird Program that groups family foster homes into neighborhood clusters so foster parents are connected to a network of others doing the same great work.
  • $600,000 will provide 24-hour crisis stabilization services for DC foster parents and relatives caring for foster children.

The quality with which public agencies look after children and youth in foster care is gaining increasing attention throughout the child welfare field. CFSA is poised to be at the forefront of this well-being movement.

  • In FY14, we will use $640,000 of the five-year, $3.2 million federal grant to make trauma-informed treatment the foundation of serving children and youth in District child welfare. We've attracted national experts to help us implement this cutting-edge model and expect good payoffs for children and youth as we embrace this evidence-based practice.
  • We'll make $791,000 in new investments for community-based mental health services, primarily to establish a more robust array of treatments for children and youth who are placed in Maryland without easy access to providers approved for DC Medicaid.
  • $676,000 will give families CFSA serves at home greater access to substance abuse treatment and will increase support for recovery of participants in Family Treatment Court. Also, for the first time, CFSA will screen all youth age 11 and older for substance use when they enter foster care or make a change in placement.

Finally, to help increase exits to permanence, we're investing $1 million to jumpstart two of our proposed waiver services.

  • Project Connect will provide intensive support to help children reunify more quickly and successfully with parents who have conquered the most difficult issues (such as substance abuse and domestic violence).
  • We will also launch the evidence-based Homebuilders Program to provide intensive family preservation services for our growing number of in-home families.

I mentioned earlier that CFSA's proposed FY14 budget is strategy-based, and these investments exemplify that principal. We are working to bring every aspect of CFSA—from budget to structure to services—in line with the drive for improved outcomes for children and youth.

Staffing

CFSA is intensely pursuing performance improvement while also transforming to meet the changing needs of those we serve. To support this evolution, our FY14 personnel budget request reflects maintaining our FY13 level—that is, 817 FTEs budgeted at $71.9 million. That budget figure excludes overtime and represents an additional $2.1 million for planned step and other increases. The budgeted vacancy rate is 5 percent compared to 6 percent in FY 13.
Maintaining personnel has been instrumental in supporting the many changes CFSA is going through, some by choice and others due to shifting demands. During FY12 and FY13, when I restructured the agency in support of the Four Pillars, I had the flexibility to adjust positions as needed. An example is creation of a new Kinship Unit, which is already paying off through an increase in children being placed with relatives as soon as they come into care.

We are constantly assessing our caseload needs to ensure we meet our LaShawn mandates, but as the foster care population continues to drop, we have streamlined social work units and eliminated supervisory and management positions. However, we have to add or backfill positions for in-home cases, which have increased by 51 cases since last year at this time. We also had to transfer 25 vacant positions to Child Protective Services to address the surge in investigations as the DC Public Schools ramped up to reporting 90 percent of instances of educational neglect. Since the DC Charter Schools are now reporting only about 10 percent of instances of educational neglect, we expect to face another surge and will need to increase capacity to continue to meet our LaShawn caseload standards.

We also need to establish appropriate staffing to manage our front-end waiver services, a process we have already started. In addition, we have been much more aggressive in filling needed vacancies. We currently have 80 vacancies, 51 of which are in active recruitment, leaving only 29 vacancies which we have to maintain to stay within our vacancy rate. So while the Mayor's budget reduced our non-personnel dollars significantly, he recognized the need to maintain our existing FTEs. I respectfully ask the Council do the same.

Conclusion

In closing today, CFSA's FY14 budget request represents sufficient resources to pursue improved outcomes for children and youth, to meet remaining requirements under LaShawn, and to continue to transform local child welfare to meet the changing needs of those we serve. I appreciate your concern for the vulnerable District residents we serve and hope CFSA can count on your support in approving our budget request. Thank you.