The four-year battle over Utah's child welfare services took another turn Friday when a San Francisco advocacy group asked a judge to order Utah to implement a new comprehensive plan.
The plan, released Friday, outlines staff training, family assessments and other quality management issues meant to improve the long-embattled Utah Division of Child and Family Services.It's a document the division has had much input on and one that officials have publicly said they plan to utilize. Still, Martha Matthews, an attorney for the National Center for Youth Law, said an order by a Utah federal court judge would keep the pressure on the state to improve services for abused and neglected children.
DCFS has squabbled with the National Center for four years about compliance issues stemming from the 1994 settlement agreement of the class-action lawsuit David C. vs. Leavitt.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell denied the National Center's request to extend the settlement agreement, which will allow the court's oversight of the division to expire.
But in Friday's brief, the National Center asked Campbell to retain jurisdiction over the case until DCFS implements the comprehensive plan.
"What we're saying is the comprehensive plan was ordered way back in 1997 by Judge (David) Winder who said, `You guys are not in compliance. You're not trying as hard as you could be,' " Matthews said. "We need a new order making it clear that they are still under a court order to implement the comprehensive plan and we're asking Judge Campbell to keep jurisdiction on the case until the plan is implemented."
The comprehensive plan, which was released to the public and filed with the court Friday afternoon, is a 77-page outline of strategies to improve child-welfare services.
The monitoring panel, a three-member volunteer board, created the corrective action plan with the help of an Alabama consulting group and input from the state.
Unlike the top-down approach the state undertook when trying to make changes set out in the 1994 settlement agreement, the comprehensive plan indicates DCFS should get worker input and allow each region of the state to have its own objectives. There are extensive sections on improving child safety, permanence and child well-being.
The comprehensive plan also suggests the division:
- Focus training on line-level supervisors who have received relatively little.
- Train workers on the "why" of compliance issues to improve the quality of service.
- Establish a model of practice.
- Strengthen children and family assessments.
- Form focus groups to review the comprehensive plan.