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Nichols pointed to seven steps DSS is taking in reforming child residential care:
- Develop Corrective Action Plans with identified facilities
- Develop steps for implementation of Corrective Action Plans within 90 days
- Review existing and proposed licensing standards
- Review of licenses of each child facility
- Reorganize the licensure department at DSS
- Initiate the formation of a licensure task force
- Conduct a survey of all child residential facilities within the next 90 days
DSS Interim Secretary Kristy Nichols said, "As we conducted an internal audit over the past month of our processes and protocols of enforcing current residential licensing standards, we found a system that is overburdened, not as transparent as we would like and does not guarantee the continuity of care that should be expected in making sure children are housed in a safe environment."
Nichols said that DSS has taken action in the past 60 days involving 13 child residential facilities that were under corrective action plans as a result of a safety and risk assessment undertaken in July.
DSS assembled a five-member Residential Review Commission in July to review Louisiana's residential foster care system and released three major recommendations in August. A review by DSS, the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Office of Juvenile Justice was conducted of licensed child residential homes in July. The assessment ranked the 67 facilities utilized by OCS and OJJ on a 1.0 (high risk) to 3.0 (low risk) scale. Nine scored a 3.0 and another 13 rated 2.5 or below, the average score was a 2.7. The scores were based on physical environment, supervision of youth, qualifications of facility staff, medical safety needs of youth and incidents of child abuse or neglect.
As a result, corrective action plans were developed for the 13 facilities scoring below a 2.5. Issues addressed in these plans ranged from validation of child abuse, inadequate staffing patterns, programmatic issues, supervision of residents, and building or structural problems.
The 13 corrective action plan facilities included:
- Changes Group Home
- Bragg Street Group Home
- Lester Roberts
- Boys Sanctuary
- Vermilion Group Home
- Johnny Gray Jones Shelter
- Rutherford House I, II, III, IV, and V
- Hope Youth Ranch
Each facility has been visited by DSS within the past 60 days, has signed a corrective action plan and agreed to implement corrective actions within 90 days.
Two facilities - Hope Youth Ranch in Minden and Christian Acres in Tallulah, have been placed under a moratorium by both DSS' Office of Community Services and the Office of Juvenile
Justice, meaning no new children will be placed in the facility.
"DSS staff, in collaboration with OJJ, will be traveling to Minden and Tallulah in the next week to assess the current situation of our children placed at Hope Youth Ranch and Christian Acres, as well as review the placement needs of children at these facilities."
Nichols said DSS is conducting a comprehensive review of all the residential facilities licensed by the department -- both child and adult residential facilities, with an interagency team focusing on and visiting child facilities within the next 90 days.
"Over the next 90 days, an interagency team will review all licensed facilities beginning with child residential facilities," Nichols said. "We have identified 19 facilities that we will review first, starting with the 13 lowest scoring facilities from the earlier safety and risk assessment, followed by an additional six about which we have concerns," Nichols said.
"These child residential facilities will not be starting with a clean slate, but we will look at them with a clean perspective," Nichols said. "We will work diligently with facilities to make sure they are providing a safe environment for these children and that they correct any deficiencies sighted in a timely manner. If they fail to do this, we will use every resource available to the department to take swift action because the safety of these children is our first concern."
To help with the review, Nichols has reorganized the licensure department at DSS by putting a new management structure in place, doubling the number of licensing staff in the field, and providing additional training for license specialists.
In addition, Nichols said DSS will create a child residential licensing task force to review current standards and regulations. The task force will be composed of people familiar with residential licensing and out-of-home placement requirements, and who have an emphasis on providing quality services to youth. Members will be from the Office of Juvenile Justice, Department of Health and Hospitals Department of Mental Health, Office of Community Services, as well as providers and advocates. Members will make recommendations during the next 90-120 days.
"We recognize that the children in all of our facilities are the most vulnerable and we must hold ourselves and our partners accountable," Nichols said.
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