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Feds recognize improvements to child welfare system


In a letter to Gov. Linda Lingle, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially recognized the State of Hawaii for completing a wide range of improvements to the child welfare system since 2004. These changes significantly enhanced the safety, well-being and stability of children in State care.

The required changes to the child welfare system were detailed in a two-year Program Improvement Plan (PIP) developed for Hawaii following a 2003 assessment by federal officials and the State Department of Human Services (DHS). Every state has a PIP as part of the federal government’s nationwide Child and Family Services Review.

Hawaii’s PIP called for completing more than 350 benchmark “action steps”, 19 performance indicators and five systemic improvements to comply with national “best practice” standards. If DHS had not met these goals, the federal government could have penalized the state about $2.4 million.

Acting Associate Commissioner Joseph J. Bock of the federal Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said completing the PIP was “a tremendous accomplishment for the Hawaii child welfare community.”

“It is a milestone that signifies a number of years of dedication and commitment from Hawaii’s DHS and its child welfare partners across the state,” Bock wrote. “We commend the work of the Director of DHS, Lillian Koller, and all of the staff of the Social Services Division’s Child Welfare Services Branch for their dedication and commitment to improving the safety, permanency and well-being for the state’s most vulnerable children and families.”

Koller said this aggressive overhaul of the child welfare system would not have been possible without the leadership of the Lingle-Aiona Administration, the hard work of her DHS staff and strong partnerships with the Family Court and numerous community-based social service agencies.

“Rather than seeing the federal review as a burden, our staff and partners embraced the PIP as a golden opportunity to make much-needed changes throughout Hawaii’s child welfare system,” Koller said. “Because of this dedication to continuous quality improvement – above and beyond federal standards – our keiki are significantly safer and our families are stronger.”

Improvements attained by DHS through the PIP include:

• Measurably reducing the risk of harm to children;

• Initiating investigations more quickly when DHS receives reports of child abuse and neglect;

• Prioritizing social worker visits with at-risk and abused children and their families;

• Partnering with the University of Hawaii to increase training for DHS staff, including supervisors and managers;

• Involving children and their families to a greater extent in case planning; and

• Working more closely with the Family Court and community partners across the state.

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