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Good morning, your honor.

Six months ago, in my first appearance in this matter, this court remarked that we were at “the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.”

Indeed, much has changed for New Jersey’s children and families since the initiation of this action nearly twenty years ago. After multiple revisions to the settlement agreement and much work on the part of the State of New Jersey, children and families in the Garden State experience a child-serving system that is markedly improved. Our reform efforts have given form to a well-functioning and well-resourced, self-monitoring and self-correcting child welfare system.

Today, DCF is well-situated to deliver necessary interventions to at-risk families, to keep them from becoming further involved in New Jersey’s child welfare system.

Caseloads are consistently within the range recommended by the Sustainability and Exit Plan.

Professional development and training infrastructure is built and resourced to meet the needs of staff and management.

The child and family nurse partnership delivers state of the art medical care coordination to children in out-of-home placements.

The Children’s System of Care manages a comprehensive set of behavioral health, substance abuse, autism and intellectual and developmental disability services for all children in New Jersey, including those involved with the Division of Child Protection & Permanency.

The Child Protection Substance Abuse Initiative – and the Peer Recovery Support Services – ensure that agency-involved families in which caregiver substance abuse contributes to risk and safety concerns can timely access effective, proven substance abuse assessment, treatment and support.

Through partnerships with community providers, DCF supports a network of 57 Family Success Centers, community-based sources of primary prevention services, dedicated to empowering families before child abuse and neglect ever happen.

And our evidence-based home visiting model ensures that new parents have access to services, supports and care in their own homes, on a voluntary basis.  Last year, more than 7,000 families were served by home visiting through nearly 75,000 visits conducted in every county throughout the State.

Simply put, our foundation is sound, and, as a result, our performance is strong.  As of Monitoring Period 22, 88 percent of the requirements set forth in the Sustainability and Exit Plan have been met and remain designated as “to be maintained.”

Significantly, in a review of the performance of New Jersey compared to other jurisdictions, New Jersey outperforms the national average in several critical metrics related to safety and permanency.

New Jersey’s rate of maltreatment-related child fatalities is lower than the national average.

New Jersey’s rate of repeat maltreatment within six months of the initial maltreatment episode is substantially lower than the national average.

The number of children in New Jersey’s foster care system has decreased – most recently, by seven percent over the last year – as compared to other states which are seeing an increase in the number of out-of-home placements.  Most tellingly, the foster care decrease happened while New Jersey is facing an opioid epidemic that has resulted in a doubling of the number of children in foster care in other counties and jurisdictions throughout the United States.

New Jersey makes low use of congregate care placements and high use of stable kinship placements. 

The rate at which children are maltreated while in an out-of-home care setting is extremely low – just 0.24% for SEP Monitoring Period 22.

Investigations are conducted on a timely basis, without compromising practice quality, which remains high.

As is clear, New Jersey’s child welfare system is a national leader, but as I’ve often told my staff, the families we serve don’t care if we’re ranked first in the nation or 50th… they care about how their family is being treated. And, therefore, our next step in DCF’s evolution is to transform into a 21st century child welfare system.

To that end, I recognize that one of the goals of the Sustainability and Exit Plan is to ultimately transfer primary monitoring function of the system to DCF. As such, our Department continues to build upon its capacity as a self-monitoring, self-correcting agency.

DCF has an evolving information technology infrastructure that supports timely and accurate collection of case specific data.

Through a partnership with Rutgers University, DCF makes several data elements available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, in aggregate and maintain confidentiality.  Customizable reports can be created at the county or state level by anyone in the general public, at any time.

DCF publishes monthly reports regarding Departmental performance.  These reports, along with our entire policy manual, are available on our public website.

DCF also undertakes a comprehensive Quality Review process in each county in the state, so that the entire state is assessed in depth once every two years.  These reviews continue to teach us much about case practice and its impact on New Jersey’s children and families.

To ensure further transparency, DCF is beginning to develop a comprehensive annual report, to be submitted to this court and available to the public on our website, summarizing our performance, progress and opportunities for growth.

Despite the many accomplishments and real progress that we have made to date, New Jersey - and every public child welfare system in the United States and internationally – has a never-ending obligation to identify and correct aspects of our work when it is discovered that we are not obtaining the most desirable outcomes for all children and families, the same outcomes that we would want for our own children.

Child welfare is an extraordinarily complicated field and one that requires constant adjustment to new developments in social work, psychology, forensic science, medicine, criminal justice, econometrics, and public health, just to name a few of the areas that intersect with our important work.

There is no one simple intervention or management technique that will completely and permanently fix child welfare in New Jersey, or anywhere else.

But that doesn’t mean we are any less committed to doing right by New Jersey’s children and families.  It is the job of everyone in this Department, and our deep privilege, to be the stewards of this life-altering public service.

As Commissioner, I am dedicated to making improvements to our child welfare system.  During 2018, I spent time assessing the functioning of the department and strategizing on the future goals of DCF. The priorities of this administration include several important efforts to better serve the children and families of New Jersey.

Moving forward, DCF will enhance our ability to keep children, families and our own staff safe, using safety science and practices that have been implemented – and saved lives – in fields such as heavy industry, aviation and health care.

We have engaged Alia, Inc. to partner with us on a workplace wellness initiative which promotes employee self-care, mindfulness and empathy.

We have begun to explore enhancements to our practice model – enhancements that can support staff’s ability to use evidence-informed social work techniques to focus on individual and family behaviors in need of change, rather than simply service completion.

We are assessing our statewide prevention programs and strategies, with the intent of increasing the services and supports provided to families early, to hopefully avoid that family ever having to become a child protective service case. 

We have launched a Department-wide review of purchased services to determine the need to import evidence-based practices to support better outcomes for children and families.

With the generous support of Casey Family Programs, we have engaged a consultant to assist us in developing race equity strategies to ensure that New Jersey’s child welfare system works for every New Jersey resident, not just those residents with historical privilege.

We are enhancing our partnerships with stakeholders across the state and the Administrative Office of the Courts, with the overall goal of improving timeframes to permanency for New Jersey’s children.

In the intervening months since last we met, I conducted a listening tour, meeting with constituents in all 21 of New Jersey’s counties.  To date, I have met with over 500 constituents in a series of town hall-style meetings, large and small. 

Based on those meetings, we created the Office of Family Voice to ensure that parents, youth, and kinship care providers –all have a seat at the table, and input on the policies and practice that impacts their lives.

Your Honor, as I’ve mentioned before, this agency is embarking on a new chapter…

This is a chapter where we focus our attention on improving the quality of our case practice.

It’s a chapter where everyone can see the work that we are doing day in and day out.

A chapter where we make sure that every child and every family in our state is Safe, Healthy and Connected.

We thank you for your continued partnership with us as we seek to strengthen and empower families and support and protect children throughout New Jersey.  

Thank you.