Today’s legislative update via email from the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP) reports on legislative changes to Vermont’s child protection system (CPS), the defining issue of my career and the one that underlies the establishment of BureaucracyBlog. It was my work on CPS reform that was the apparent impetus behind one or more bureaucrats tying me up in a Kafkaesque, bureaucratic netherworld for several years, devoid of transparency and accountability—and that experience inspired the creation of this blog.
The Human Services and Judiciary Committees each developed bills that shifts the CPS agency’s mode of operation more toward providing service to children and families in trouble, and away from the more corrections-oriented approach that has prevailed under the old laws. From the VPP news update:
Both the juvenile justice and child abuse statutes had become an awkward patchwork of amendment and cross reference that cried out for systematic overhaul. After weeks of work in the Human Services and Judiciary committees, both chapters of law have been redrafted to better protect children and preserve families whenever possible.
H.635 addresses the handling of reports of child abuse. The bill sets up a system for “differential response” to a valid allegation. This will allow the state to assess a family’s needs and provide services without necessarily conducting a full-scale investigation and making a formal finding of abuse. This new system is expected to increase the number of families receiving services by 20% which will reduce the numbers of children at risk and decrease the likelihood that a child will be taken into custody by the state.
The judiciary bill also makes changes to how children are taken into custody, and sets new, shorter limits on how quickly the state must move in cases in which children are taken into custody. Some of the effects of those changes will be fewer foster placements per child, more foster placements within the extended family, and the development of a long range plan for the child’s well-being within 60 days.
I know that these new requirements will present many difficult challenges for child protection workers and families, even as they do much to correct a raft of problems. As well as producing better outcomes for many people, there will be some cases where the old ways would work better for some. There will be ways, too, in which the new protocols can be abused, though one hopes to far lesser degree than the old ones. In any case, the changes presented in these two bills are the result of a lot of very hard work by a great many dedicated people. They have my gratitude and admiration for undertaking this important work to reform one of the most crucial bureaucratic systems in the state.