STATE HOUSE, Providence – The Rhode Island Senate today approved two bills as part of its focus on reform of the state’s child welfare system and policies of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
One bill, 2016-S-2502A, sponsored by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller, is aimed at transforming the child welfare system and requiring a transition away from out of home placements. The second bill, 2016-S-2717Aaa, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne, makes it clear that DCYF must notify the public with general information, and the state’s Child Advocate with specific information, when there is a child fatality or near fatality.
President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D – Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) said, “The Senate has been focused on oversight of DCYF for many years. We have tremendous respect for the DCYF staff and have been careful not to fault them for inconsistent policies and resource allocation over the years. Ensuring the safety of children in DCYF custody is not just an aspiration but an obligation. These two bills are part of a greater effort, including a focus on improving foster care and kinship care funding and regulation.”
Chairman Miller’s legislation requires funding shifts from high-end, high-cost, out-of-home placements for children to be invested in more appropriate in-home and in-community services. This rebalance of the system will allow for more children to receive services at home with their families, or as close to home as possible.
“Data shows that for all but a small percentage of children – those who need more intensive services – the best outcomes arise through investments in in-home and in-community settings,” said Miller (D – Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence). “The Health and Human Services Committee conducts periodic oversight hearings to learn about the progress towards this goal. Often, the data presented to us outside of those hearings is unclear and ambiguous.”
He continued, “This reform will effectively begin the transition from reliance on congregate care placements to greater use of foster homes with community-based services for children and families, along with comprehensive reporting on their progress. Attaining system-wide reform of this magnitude will require rebalancing the system by making changes in organization, financing and delivery of services that must be implemented.”
The legislation requires that, on or before October 1, 2016, the DCYF shall recommend the allocation of existing resources as needed to ensure that those children in need of residential care, including foster homes and support services, receive them in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their needs.
Sen. Coyne’s legislation responds directly to the haphazard approach that has been taken to public disclosure and external investigation of deaths of children in families who are involved with DCYF. The bill makes it clear that DCYF must notify the public with general information, and the Child Advocate with specific information, when there is a child fatality or near fatality. It also makes clear that the Child Advocate shall review every child fatality or near fatality reported to them by DCYF. Reports and recommendations from these reviews will be made public.
“I can think of nothing more tragic than the death of a child,” said Sen. Coyne (D – Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). “This bill provides needed transparency, uniformity and oversight to the process of investigating the death of a child in state care. In this way Rhode Islanders can have confidence that some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, the children who have been placed in the care of the state, are receiving the best care possible.”
Seeks a process to address delays at the Medical Examiner’s office;
Requires disclosure by DCYF to the Child Advocate and to the public within 48 hours of all DCYF case fatalities or near fatalities;
Requires DCYF information sharing with the Child Advocate;
Requires the Child Advocate to form Child Fatality Review Panels, with membership appointed on a case-by-case basis, to review all DCYF fatalities or near fatalities in those under the age of 21; and
Requires the Child Advocate to announce each review panel formation and to make their recommendations public.
Sen. Miller’s bill is co-sponsored by Senators Gayle L. Goldin (D – Dist. 3, Providence), Louis P. DiPalma (D – Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Donna M. Nesselbush (D – Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), and Daniel Da Ponte (D – Dist. 14, East Providence). Sen. Coyne’s bill is co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth A. Crowley (D – Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Stephen R. Archambault (D – Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence), Goldin, and William J. Conley, Jr. (D – Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket). Both bills will now be sent to the House of Representatives.
For more information, contact:
Greg Pare, Press Secretary for the Senate
State House Room 314
Providence, RI 02903