Philadelphia's child welfare system is steadily improving, DHS says

Pat Loeb
December 06, 2019 - 11:47 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia Department of Human Services has issued its third annual "report card" on the community agencies that handle its case management, and it found steady progress in almost every area. 

DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa said the report card is more than a check on performance. It's a roadmap for how agencies can improve by showing them where they need to focus. 

When the report card started in 2017, all 10 agencies — known as Community Umbrella Agencies, or CUAs — basically flunked. On a scale of one to five, the best any organization did was a two, which translates to unsatisfactory. 

This time around, seven of the 10 agencies reached a ranking of four out of five — meaning proficient — and even the underperformers reached level three, which means competent.

“What we've seen is their ability to make progress in areas where they were really struggling in the past,” Figueroa said. “The pendulum has really swung in terms of how far they've come.”

Turning Points for Children is one of the high performers. CEO Dawn Holden-Woods said there's been more collaboration among the agencies.

“We meet monthly to talk about what's working, what's not working, and while we're all being ranked publicly, we recognize our job is to support kids,” she said.

But the report card found one continuous weakness: Agencies remain plagued by high staff turnovers.

Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, said that creates problems for children in the system and their families.

“You call a worker because you need something quickly and you don't hear back for a week and then you learn, 'Oh, that worker's gone,' and your call is out there in the netherland not being attended to,” he said.

Cervone added he’d like to see the report card include DHS itself, which still handles investigations and case closures.

“They need to be as accountable as their contract agents are,” he noted.

Figueroa agrees there's much more to do, but given the chaos that followed the city's shift to outside agencies for social work, the report shows the new system can work.