DCYF director: We’re making progress in filling vacancies, updating policies

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A report released earlier this year called for sweeping changes at Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and on Monday, the agency’s director detailed for Senate lawmakers what’s being done to address the issues at hand.

Having reviewed the cases of four child fatalities and two near fatalities, the Office of Child Advocate (OCA) released a report in March suggesting the state isn’t doing enough to protect at-risk children.

DCYF’s director, Dr. Trista Piccola, called the report’s findings “troubling” and said she intended to work with the OCA to improve the state’s child welfare services.

On Monday, before a joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services and Senate Finance Subcommittee on Human Services, Piccola said she found there isn’t a single root cause to the problems with her department, but she believes it is time to take action to address them.

The OCA’s report called for a thorough review of the agency’s practices and policies – specifically those involving its Child Protective Services division – and highlighted a number of issues, including inadequate staffing and overbearing caseloads.

“Our staff deserve manageable caseloads, strong and effective leadership, and the right training and tools to do their jobs,” Piccola told lawmakers.

Piccola said her goal is to fill 65 vacancies by the end of May.

“As of today, we have hired 50 of the 65 front-line workers,” she said. “The remaining 15 positions are in various stages of the hiring process.”

The vacancies filled remain within the DCYF’s budget, according to Piccola. She also said she’s hired a new leader for the Child Protective Services division.

“We have drafted some policy changes that we are reviewing right now about how we are going to improve on taking information in, assess it, and respond to safety and risk of children,” Piccola explained to the panel.

The state’s child advocate, Jennifer Griffith, said the DCYF’s response to the report is promising, but it’s too soon to tell if the correct changes are being made.

Piccola started with the DCYF only a few months ago. Senators on Monday said her actions so far have been refreshing, and they believe it’s a great sign for the agency moving forward.