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FAMILY SERVICES HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER

SHARE FAMILY SERVICES HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER

This year the Utah Division of Family Services (DFS) has made substantive changes resulting in better care for the children of this state.

Utah Youth Village, of which I am president, is a private charitable organization that provides residential treatment and family preservation services for many youths who are wards of DFS. It deals with all of the offices of DFS on an ongoing basis.In our daily association with the personnel of DFS, we at Utah Youth Village are impressed with the breadth and speed of many of the changes that have occurred in the system.

These changes were precipitated by the Child Welfare Reform Act, passed in the last session of the Legislature, and a recent lawsuit settlement. Mary T. Noonan, the new division director, has done an outstanding job directing the resources of the division to respond to the demands of the lawsuit settlement and the new statute.

Here are specific improvements we have observed:

1. Case workers for the division are much more aggressively finding permanent solutions for children. They are more assertively challenging some parents of troubled children to be a positive part of the child's life or to let the child be adopted.

2. Case workers have substantially increased the number of contacts made with staff and youth. In August, September and October of 1994, these contacts were 50 percent greater than for the same period a year earlier.

3. Case workers are visiting youths more often. In the past, it was not unusual for a child to go months without a face-to-face visit from a case worker. However, during the past year, the case workers visit the children at least once a month. My colleagues have seen efforts since July by case workers to make bimonthly visits.

4. There has been a dramatic improvement in the timeliness and completeness of children's records. During the past six months, case workers have insisted that the information in these files is maintained in detail. This has increased our ability to meet each child's medical, dental and treatment needs.

5. Mental-health assessments are now routinely performed for all youths who are placed. In the past, these assessments were seldom available.

6. The Division of Family Services statewide has sought much more training resources for foster parents than in the past.

7. In the past five months, Utah Youth Village has often interacted with guardian ad litems, court-appointed attorneys who advocate for the rights and issues of the children. In the past, it was rare to encounter a guardian ad litem involved with youths who are placed in our care.

8. A substantial increase has been made in the amount of funding available for the basic and special needs of youths who are wards of the state. Not only are more funds available, but there is greater cooperation from case workers in the way that the money is used to meet the needs of the youths that we serve.

9. Case workers take more time in the placement process than they have in the past. They ask more questions and are more careful to place children with foster homes or group homes that will best fit each child's needs.

10. New case workers are receiving better training. Supervisors now accompany new case workers when placing children with Utah Youth Village. The case worker supervisors have made additional efforts to provide consistency in the training of the case workers.

11. Consumer evaluation systems have been created to give feedback on how the case worker's clients feel about their performance. This is an unique innovation with far-reaching implications. No other state has implemented a system that gives each case worker direct feedback on how they are perceived by the people they serve.

12. The Division of Family Services in Utah is in the beginning stages of creating outcome measures to assess the success of the treatment and care. This is also a unique innovation and will ultimately benefit the children and citizens of the state.

The above changes are those that we at Utah Youth Village have perceived dealing only with the area of residential treatment and care of troubled children and families in the state's custody. Many additional changes have taken place in the Child Protective Services area of the Division of Family Services which are not listed here.

We are impressed with Noonan's capable leadership. We have found her to be open-minded, accessible, focused on accomplishing the tasks given to the Division and a marvelous motivator to her staff.

Caseworkers often deal with angry people. They must make difficult and lonely decisions. They rarely receive gratitude for their efforts. Perhaps the greatest challenge of the division is keeping its employees. Noonan has made unprecedented efforts to be available to the front-line case workers to boost their morale. It is common for us to hear case workers refer to her personally as a resource or friend.

Utah Youth Village hopes that the people of Utah give recognition to Noonan and her staff for their accomplishments in making so many changes in a large and complex system.

We urge that Noonan and her staff be given the time and support necessary to allow them to stay the course that they have set.