In March, Governor Corzine of New Jersey lauded the improvements to the child welfare system in New Jersey in a press release. Additionally, new reports show that the system is improving, and I would certainly agree that my state is better situated in child welfare than it maybe ever was.
However, if New Jersey wants to be a leader in child welfare (maybe it does, maybe it doesn't...but I'd like it to be!), I have some proposals that appear below.
To: Governor Corzine
From: Lynda L. Hinkle
Re: Reform to New Jersey’s Child Welfare System
Reforming New Jersey’s Child Welfare system will require a true commitment to building child-centered protocols and changing the culture of the current system to encourage professionalism and professional responsibility among those who work with children. It will also require a change in public perception of the process.
- Create a licensing system for DYFS workers that requires professional education to address protocols and developing strategies for successful case management.
- Develop contractual requirements for DYFS workers to continue their education in the same manner that teachers and lawyers must in order to retain their licenses.
- Initiate a transparent “complaints” system in which parents, children, and law guardians can appeal to the oversight of an outside source when they feel their cases are being mishandled by a DYFS worker or other arm of child protective services. This system could be modeled after the way in which the state manages complaints about mediators, by providing a task force of professionals in the area who can investigate.
- Provide additional, annual training to judges who will be managing child welfare cases, and to their staff. Address not only the philosophy of child welfare, but seek to provide uniform procedure and methodology that is appropriate for judges to approach these cases.
- Create tax incentives for private industries that provide grants to agencies who advance child advocacy in New Jersey through programs, services, and trainings. One such program that could be funded by private industries would be a website for children in foster care that provides information about their rights, how to complain about problems they are having, and a discussion board so they can share information with other foster children (modeled after the STEPS program used as a mental health promotion initiative in high schools, information available at http://www.promotestrength.org/)
- Initiate a public relations campaign to educate the public on how to spot and report abuse, and encourage people to change their perception of reporting. Include in this campaign outreach to schools where abused children may be made aware that there is help for them. Create and distribute lessons that teachers can use in classrooms to help children to develop an understanding of abuse and how to report.
- Incorporate into the Core Curriculum Standards a section on spotting and reporting abuse as well as on managing anger and depression so problems can be caught before children grow into adults who abuse. These standards should be implemented beginning early as part of the Life Skills module.
These are just some of the reforms that would help New Jersey to emerge as a leader in child welfare and child advocacy.