Foster Care:

Status of the District of Columbia's Child Welfare System Reform Efforts

T-HEHS-00-109: Published: May 5, 2000. Publicly Released: May 5, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the status of the court-appointed receivership for the District of Columbia's child welfare system, focusing on: (1) the progress the receivership has made to comply with the requirements of the modified final order (MFO); and (2) key elements that are essential for additional reforms to occur.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's work has shown that resolving the long-standing systemic problems plaguing the District's child welfare system will take a concerted effort that goes beyond addressing the specific requirements of the MFO; (2) while the receiver has made progress in correcting important child welfare agency deficiencies, GAO's previous work shows that the responsibility for the safety and well-being of children cannot rest solely on an overwhelmed child welfare agency; (3) the receiver has begun to fulfill her role in addressing the specific MFO requirements, such as developing and implementing a new child welfare information system that began operating in October 1999 and establishing a training project in January 1999 to enhance caseworker skills; (4) the receiver acknowledges that changes to date address approximately 50 percent of the requirements in the MFO; (5) however, implementing changes to address the MFO requirements alone cannot resolve the many systemic challenges that permeate the child welfare system; (6) many of the problems facing the District's system are similar to those faced by other jurisdictions around the country, and long-standing systemic weaknesses, such as poor working relationships between the agencies and the courts, hamper child welfare agencies' capacity to protect children; (7) GAO's previous work found that in order to achieve tangible progress in eliminating these barriers, effective working relationships must exist among all stakeholders--such as private foster care providers, the court system, and other local government agencies--that have a role in keeping children safe; (8) some jurisdictions have fostered this collaboration by creating multidisciplinary advisory groups that work to resolve turf battles and dispel mistrust, or by pooling or blending funds from various state and federal sources to gain leverage in obtaining needed resources; and (9) District of Columbia officials and child welfare experts familiar with the District agree that this collaboration, while key to protecting children, is not fully developed in the District.

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