Senate HHS, Finance leaders seek swift response, action from DCYF on child fatalities report
STATE HOUSE – The leaders of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are asking the leader of the Department of Children, Youth and Families to swiftly respond to a list of recommendations made by the Office of the Child Advocate’s Fatality Review Panel following the deaths in the last year of four young children due to abuse or neglect.
The chairmen and vice chairpersons of the two committees sent a five-page letter yesterday to DCYF Director Trista Piccola asking for her department’s specific responses to each of the 21 recommendations made by the Fatality Review Panel, a time frame needed for implementing each recommended change and any statutory or fiscal barriers that will need to be overcome for each. The senators also asked for written responses to each of the questions asked by the senators who participated in a recent joint hearing of the Finance and Health and Human Services committees with the state’s child advocate, Jennifer Griffith, to discuss the report and its recommendations. Piccola also attended the hearing to discuss the issues raised in the report.
“[We] believe everyone at the hearing was shaken by what we heard, and we share the responsibility to act with a sense of urgency,” the senators wrote in their letter. “As we take steps to ensure that our children remain as our priority, we would like to hear your department’s response to the recommendations contained in the report.”
The letter, which is signed by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Vice Chairwoman Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), and Finance Committee Chairman William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and First Vice Chairman Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton), asks for a written response by April 14 and states that the committees plan to hold a follow-up hearing to receive a detailed update from DCYF on its progress addressing deficiencies noted in the report.
The senators were quick to note that they do not wish to assign blame to DCYF’s overstretched, under-resourced staff or Piccola, who took over earlier this year as head of a department that has struggled under high caseloads and other problems for years.
“We cannot state clearly enough that we do not fault the staff at the department for the issues identified. As the Child Advocate testified, the front-line workers deserve our support, not our criticism. They have highly challenging and unpredictable jobs, made more difficult by having excessive caseloads and being under-resourced. We also understand that many of the issues identified represent problems that existed or were created prior to your recent arrival at the department. We welcome the strong child welfare experience that you will bring to improving our child protection policies and practice,” the letter says.
Among the recommendations made in the report to which the senators seek a response are numerous points related transforming the Child Protective Services Unit from a division that responds to incidents to a preventative one that analyzes risks; engaging with community-based services to better meet families’ needs; and ensuring that reports of child fatalities or near-fatalities are never classified as “informational/referral” so they are given the appropriately thorough response.
Click here to read full text of letter.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903