DCYF gets private grant to improve support for children in welfare system

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Following a period of some difficult situations for the agency, the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said Wednesday it is receiving a $415,000 grant to improve its delivery of services and support infrastructure for young children in the state’s child welfare system.

The grant comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded by the founder of Kellogg’s cereal, Will Keith Kellogg, in 1930.

The DCYF went to the foundation earlier this year with a project proposal, the “Rhode Island Getting to Kindergarten Initiative.” Over three years, DCYF plans to improve access to developmental screening, services and resources for the 1,300 children under the age of six that become involved with the agency each year. Each child in the system faces challenges that can have life-long effects on their well-being and educational success, said the department’s Kerri White in a release.

The grant comes at a time the department is facing some scrutiny. Back in March, the state’s Office of the Child Advocate released a report suggesting a need for serious reform at DCYF, from simple handling of the tracking of each child’s case, to understaffing. Between Oct. 2016 and March 2017, the department reported six cases of young children suffering from neglect or abuse from adults, including four children who died, and a report was issued in April by the state’s Child Fatality Review Panel, including 21 recommendations. The director of DCYF, Dr. Trista Piccola, then went before a Senate committee in May and said she was committed to addressing the problems — with solutions including hiring more workers to lighten caseloads.

Other goals earmarked for the grant include high-quality child care and training for childhood service providers and DCYF caseworkers, and programs including child screening and family visitations. Citing data in Rhode Island and nationwide that suggests that young children exposed to abuse and neglect are six times more likely to experience some form of developmental delay, White said that a focus on improving the well-being of children will strengthen the likelihood for their future success.

Dr. Piccola said in the release the grant will provide direct benefits to a goal set a year ago by Gov. Gina Raimondo, calling for 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025.