The state Division of Child and Family Services is making "encouraging progress" on its court-ordered system overhaul but still has a lot of work to do on processing child abuse and neglect cases.

That's according to an annual report from an Alabama-based court monitor assigned as part of the 1998 David C. v. Leavitt federal court settlement. The report was made public Tuesday.

DCFS director Richard Anderson said the division has improved even more since the examination's time frame, which looks at practices as they stood about a year and a half ago. The division also wants to negotiate with plaintiffs on adjusting some reform expectations.

"They've been open to having those discussions with us," Anderson said.

"We're involved in a lot of research now in trying to figure out why in 10 years we haven't been able to make the gains (in case review issues)," he said. "It's a slow process of changing an organization this large . . . (but) each year we keep getting better at what we're doing."

In 1993, Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 17 children it claimed had been physically and sexually abused while in Utah's foster care system. The case was known as David C. v. Leavitt.

About 2,000 Utah children are in foster care at any time.

In 1998, as part of a second case settlement, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ordered DCFS to work with The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group of Montgomery, Ala., and draft a plan to improve the system.

The Child Welfare Group was assigned to monitor DCFS work to implement the 112-step Performance Milestone Plan and file annual reports on its progress.

The group's report examines DCFS's performance between 2002 and 2003. However, case practice is nearly a year old by the time it is measured, and the report does not reveal current practice, the report states.

Some things have gone well.

DCFS completed 93 percent of the Milestone plan's tasks due by last Sept. 30. That's an improvement from last year, when it had completed 87 percent of the tasks due.

On qualitative case reviews, all five Utah regions exceeded the 85 percent performance standard on "child and family status," which examines safety, well-being, satisfaction and appropriateness of a child's placement, among other matters. The northern region earned a perfect score.

But other areas need work.

On case processes, DCFS met the 90 percent performance standard on just one of nine measures deemed critical to child safety. It also met the 85 percent standard on nine of 43 "essential measures."

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Regions also showed improvement on system performance. But overall scores range between 58.3 percent and 87.5 percent. Areas needing work include teaming and coordination, assessment, planning, and tracking.

"There has been impressive progress in the completion of the key Milestone tasks of training, policy development, flexible fund implementation and information system revision," the report states. However, "The division is still substantially below the level of performance required for exit."

Things could look up. Anderson notes he's seeing current progress that will show up in future reports. Also, following state budget cuts, the 2004 Legislature gave DCFS money for the equivalent of 50 full-time workers, bringing the division back to full strength to address its case load.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

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