DCYF’s Problems: A Matter of Fiscal Priorities

The ProJo reports:

Rhode Island’s Child Advocate Jametta O. Alston is pursuing class-action status on behalf of the 3,000 children now in state custody, aiming for nothing less than an overhaul of Rhode Island’s child-welfare system, which the suit portrays as overburdened and mismanaged.
“It’s beyond broken,” Alston said of the system. “It’s demolished. It doesn’t work.”
Rhode Island was the worst in the nation in the number of children abused and neglected while in state foster care in five of the six years between 2000 and 2005, according to the suit. “We beat Mississippi and Alabama,” Alston said. “Think about that.” {Note: the ProJo corrected this statement on Saturday to read “rate” instead of “number” of children–ed.}

Alston claims there are some very real problems going on at DCYF.

…caseworkers are laboring under “excessive caseloads”; the state places too many children in institutions, group homes and emergency shelters; and children are being “reunited” with parents who have abused them.

If her claims are true, then the children are being twice-victimized. It’s a disgrace. As Alston wrote in the OCA’s 2006 report, night to night placement shouldn’t even be going on:

…DCYF provides the OCA weekly reports identifying children placed night to night. These reports indicate that more than two decades after the original lawsuit was filed, DCYF continues to rely on night to night placements. The reported total number of children placed night to night in 2006 is 234. The reported total number of night to night placement episodes for the 2006 year is 276…

Here’s an idea: why not spend, say, $71 million on a facility to hold these poor kids instead of moving them around every night? Then again, maybe a central facility may not be the best idea. According to the same report, there have been problems at the Rhode Island Training School, too. And when the OCA tried to address them, well…

During 2006, the OCA, RITS, CPS [Child Protective Services] and Council 94, Local 314 of the American Federation of Federal, State and Municipal Employees (AFSME) met numerous times as the parties attempted to work out investigative protocols which protect the child’s and worker’s respective rights without compromising the integrity of the investigative process and without draining the limited workforce resources of RITS. All parties had a shared concern for the safety and wellbeing of the residents but each time it appeared that there was agreement on the protocols, Council 94 would subsequently object to the OCA’s participation in the investigation. This led the OCA to reevaluate the protocols and its proposal for protocols for future investigations.

However, in the end, the OCA, in the aforementioned 2006 report, requests that more workers and money be appropriated to address the various problems. I appreciate the motive, but I think the “fix” is wrong-headed and will only enable the same attitudes and–tell me where you’ve heard this before–structural problems that have gotten DCYF into this mess. Besides, this is exactly what the State has been doing.
From 2001 to 2007, the amount budgeted for DCYF went up from $195,121,687 to $290,358,510, an increase of 48.8%. However, despite the pleas of Alston and groups like the RI Poverty institute, the Enacted 2008 State Budget saw a reduction of expenditures for DCYF down to $232,749,891 (though that is still an increase of 19% over 2001).
We all want to help poor kids in troubled families, but throwing more and more money at the problems hasn’t helped. Yet, neither does it seem logical to take away money, right? But looking at the overall DCYF budget doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, there is one area where the growth hasn’t subsided at all: payroll.
In 2001, there were 875.9 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) positions whose salaries totaled $41,667,680, for an average salary of $47,571 per FTE. In 2008, there were 810 FTEs with a total salary component of $49,698,858, for an average of $61,357 per FTE. That’s an overall average salary increase of 30% over 7 years. That’s around a 4% increase per year (the inflation rate from 2001 to 2006 was around 2.5% and hasn’t increased). Meanwhile, the total number of FTEs has decreased by 66 positions. How is such a reduction helpful to the workloads?
And the numbers really jump when the total payroll costs (salary and benefits), which more accurately reflect the real cost to government–and taxpayers, are used. By adding benefits (Retirement, Medical, Medical Benefits Salary Disbursement and FICA) to the previous calculations, in 2001 there was a total payroll cost of $55,574,096 or $63,448 per FTE. In 2008, there was a total payroll cost of $76,652,769, or $94,633 per FTE. That is a net loss of 65.9 jobs (-7.5%) between 2001 and 2008, but an increase in payroll of $30,515.55 per FTE (+49%).
OK, so which job salaries are increasing the most, right? I suspect we’d hear an argument that all the money is going to upper management and administrative positions. Let’s take a look.



DCYF – Cost to Employ Comparison – Administrative
Position2001 Cost2007 Cost% Difference
Director, Dept. of Children, Youth & Families$118,719$145,95222.9%
Executive Director, Administration*$115,754$151,84831.2%
Administrative Assistant**$37,073$54,97548.3%
Deputy Director, (DCYF)$110,906100%
Associate Director, Child Welfare$132,968100%
Executive Assistant$74,067100%

*Now called “Executive Director, Administration (DCYF)”
**Now called “Confidential Secretary”

The increases in these positions average in the 30% range (though the Secretary saw an increase of nearly 50%–hmm, maybe it’s not just privatized secretaries who make out…). Plus, 3 new positions were created.
OK, let’s compare the increase in the costs of employment for a few “in the trenches” positions between 2001 and 2008. By the way, I didn’t cherry-pick these positions, folks. I simply went through and tried to find the positions with higher numbers of employees, figuring that they were the “average Jill or Joe” workers.


DCYF – Cost to Employ Comparison
Position2001 FTE2001 Cost2001 $/FTE2008 FTE2008 Cost2008 $/FTE$/FTE % Increase
Probation & Parole Counselor II34$1,775,898$73,995.7537$2,685,984$72,594.15-1.9%
Juvenile Program Worker121$4,327,711$35,766.20140$6,320,414$45,145.8026.2%
Casework Supervisor II54$2,912,108$53,927.9051$3,791,322$74,339.6537.9%
Child Protective Investigator67$3,308,487$49,380.4068$4,700,377$69,123.2040%
Social Caseworker II264$10,867,031$41,163.00233$13,280,321$56,997.1038.5%

Now, over the years, the total FTEs have gone up and down for some of these positions, but in most cases, the payroll costs to employ fewer workers have gone up. With this un-scientific sample, the average payroll cost of one position went down (negligibly), while the rest went up. And of those, 3 of the 4 saw increases closer to 40%.
It can be concluded that most of the (few) lost jobs occurred at the front-lines (the Social Caseworker II is a case in point) and it is no wonder that these workers–who deal day-to-day with society’s hard-cases–feel like they’re doing more than before. But they’re certainly not doing it for less and their annual compensation has increased, generally speaking, on par or better than that of the DCYF administrators and managers.
I guess the question is this: would these employees–or their unions–be willing to sacrifice a portion of their “traditional” salary and benefit increases so that more people could be hired to help with the caseloads? Maybe tying state salary increases to cost-of-living increases or inflation would help. And, for sure, the benefits packages need to be overhauled. If only.
In summary, DCYF has very real problems, but these are rooted in the same structural inefficiencies that are affecting the entire State Government. Until these inherent structural problems–over-generous increases in both salary and benefit packages and much-needed administrative consolidation to name a couple– are fixed, we will continue to shortchange both the end-user of government services and the people whose taxes pay for them.
I don’t intend to demean or belittle the workers in the State’s DCYF. They are harried and hassled and most still do their best to care for their charges. But there is only so much money that can be thrown their way. Unless something is done, the cost to employ them will continue to go up even as fewer of them perform more work. And no matter their heroics, there is only so much time in the day.
There can be no doubt that we need to fix these structural problems for the health of our government and State. We need to make the cost of employing all state workers cheaper, thus enabling the State to employ more of them to provide adequate services. But fixing our “structural problems” needs to be done for more than the well-being of the state. As the ongoing problems at DCYF illustrate, we need to do it to help our most vulnerable kids. They’re our future, one way or another.
SOURCES: 2001 RI Budget Personnel Supplement; 2007 DCYF Personnel Budget Supplement; 2008 DCYF Personnel Budget Supplement

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GREG
GREG
13 years ago

Well, Don Carcieri just barely was reelected to a second term as Governor of Rhode Island. His big issue was that he was a businessman who could clean up RI. Today’s Providence Journal makes it clear that this “businessman” knows nothing about being a good administrator. One headline on the frontpage of the paper notes that the Dept. of Transportation in RI is under investigation for corruption by Carcieri appointed people.
The second headline is how the Carcieri appointed Dept. of Children, Youth and Families is being sued because it has failed to protect foster children in the system.
Now, I ask you, is such poor government supervision the hallmark of a good governor, or as he is always bragging, “a good businessman?”
Now this guy wants to privatize as many government services as possible…and complaining about a new law that would require government oversight before he does it…so that he can make awards to his business buddies where secretaries get over $150K per year as we have seen in his most recent, unsupervised, privatization plans.
This man is losing it. He is obsessed with bringing down state labor unions, when the unions are the only ones serving as a counterpoint to the scandals and corruption that Carcieri and his appointees have brought to RI government. This has to stop. How do we recall this loser?

Tim
Tim
13 years ago

Jametta Alston is a long standing member of the poverty pimp society. Isn’t it amazing how Jametta springs into action only after the governor says he’s cutting a 1,000 state jobs? The system has failed many of these children. Jametta Alston is very much a part of that system. The problems she cites within DCYF are very real and have been going on for a long time. Her motivations for citing them now and the way she’s done so needs to be examined. Who is she really advocating for? That is a very legitimate question. Is it really “about the kids”? Or is it about more dollars and jobs for her friends in the poverty industry here in Rhode Island? The timing of this would suggest the latter is very much the motive here.

Tim
Tim
13 years ago

GREG,
You’re talking points suggest you belong with the other she-males on Matilda Jerzyk’s blog. Lose your way did you GREG? Or were you looking for Freddy’s? lol

Marc Comtois
13 years ago

GREG, You’re welcome to comment, but it seems like you didn’t really read the post and only used it as an opportunity to “go off” on the Governor. I didn’t even mention him.

johnpaycheck
johnpaycheck
13 years ago

marc,
how come none of this data ever gets reported in the projo?

Shoebob
Shoebob
13 years ago

Well, I will say that this is an exceptionally well researched and presented case, Marc. Well done.
Now, the question is, how do we publicize the bloated nature of the DCYF as the REAL cause of this problem, not that there’s not enough money being spent? Do we file an amicus brief to counter the lawsuit?

SusanD
SusanD
13 years ago

There is a corollary problem. Unlike many other states where the timeframe is as little as a month, it takes on average a year for an adoption to go through in Rhode Island.
My understanding is that the problem is a combination of misguided attempts to keep the biological family together (in spite of clear evidence of unfitness of the bio parents) and a bureaucracy more interested in self-perpetuation than in doing what is best for the children.
But there are two very bad results of such an unacceptably long waiting period. If the child is a baby, s/he misses out on a critical bonding period with those who will be his/her parents. And whatever the age of the child, it means that s/he must remain too long in a system that Rhode Island’s Child Advocate admits may or may not keep them safe.

SusanD
SusanD
13 years ago

GREG, how’s the defense fund for Joey Montalbano, Billy Irons, Council 94 member Robert Pelosi, Steve Alves and the other six Smith Hill reprobates going?

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

Looks like I have a doppleganger. And a state employee union whore to boot. Worried about your job? Maybe if there were fewer PELOSI’s on the payroll your job wouldn’t be on the block.

Hmmmmm
Hmmmmm
13 years ago

You are suggesting that because poverty has increased, the people paid to deal with the impact of poverty should be paid less. Intesting concept – pay firefighters less when there more fires, and soldiers less during wartime. Stop mixing up programs that deal with the impact of poverty with those meant to prevent it!

Marc Comtois
13 years ago

Hmmmmm, actually, I’m suggesting that they continue to get paid more, just not at the rate they are used to, which exceeds inflation. I’m also “suggesting” that a large part of their ever-increasing compensation is due to out of control benefit packages–health care especially. It is this last that places them amongst their state worker brethren. As such, their problems are part and parcel of the larger problem facing our entire state government. The conclusion is that, if we can reign in the current level of spending on each worker, we will be able to higher more workers in a controlled manner. Thus, the obviously over-worked DCYF folks will be better able to focus on fewer clients and, presumably, do an even better job than they already do.

johnpaycheck
johnpaycheck
13 years ago

like the problems at dot, these are problems that are 25 years in the making.
there is a culture throughout ri state government that perpetuates self preservation and the concept of “civil service” is virtually gone.
for many state workers , its about just showing up and doing the time and getting a few things done in the course of the day.

Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear Marc,
You did a good job of laying out the problem from your perspective.
However, you left one little piece out:
The cost of not fixing it.
If you end up spending more at the outcome end instead of what you would spend “throwing money” at this end, which makes more sense?

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Bobby,
You’re missing the point. Throwing money at an institutional problem does not solve it, especially when the mishandling of resources is part of it. So, if you do attempt the money-dump strategy, you end up with both the wasted upfront money and the costs that you were trying to avoid.

Marc Comtois
13 years ago

Bobby, Justin’s answer is correct. There is a finite amount of money to go around. The fact remains that a nearly 50% increase in payroll costs over the past 7 years has done little or nothing to mitigate the same problems over which Alston is suing the State. And those payroll costs have occurred without increasing the work force. I had hoped that, implied in the post, was the idea that spending less on perpetually increasing personnel costs would allow for the hiring of more personnel who could help carry the load and, hopefully, allow DCYF to exercise more oversight over the individual cases.

Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear Justin and Marc,
I’m not advocating it. What I am saying is that sometimes in politics/government, the least expensive answers make absolutely no sense at all.
Specifically, the answers you suggest are pretty much undoable. That is unless we revamp the entire, and I mean entire, health care system.
For the record, I hate single payer so that’s not where I’m headed.

Pat
Pat
13 years ago

I know, let’s blame the kids too. I mean, they should be strong enough to fight against the people trying to burn them with cigarettes, right?
Nice try guys, but your math is like your reasoning, skewed ti fit your points.

Marc Comtois
13 years ago

Pat, instead of ad hominem–which is ridiculous–I’d sincerely appreciate a little more detail about how the math is skewed. Heck, I even provided my sources for all to see.

Marc Comtois
13 years ago

Apparently Pat is being more elaborative over at Kmareka, where he posts:

K, just one thing. It is a bit misleading when AR posts salaries that are “up 29% since X year. What people normally do is say, hmmmm, 6 years, 29%, thats an average of 4.8%. But….. each year the raises are on the raises from the prior year. That is, it is compounded. AND, the numbers AR uses are skewed because they count certain things twice, just like the Governor. Vacation, for example. If I get to take a week off, I get paid right? But I don’t get paid twice. AR and the Gov count my regular salary AND my vacation pay… they count it twice, in other words. This dramatically floats up the numbers..
Now, why is this relevant… well, because the folks that call us Poverty Pimps like to point to a budget like DCYF and say… well, we are throwing money at it and it doesn’t work… see, since 2001 the budget has increased by 46%… cost of living is only 3%…
They always leave out the compounding, because it doesn’t help their argument. The sad part is that they really want to say “just let the kids fight back harder.” Thats their real solution.

SusanD
SusanD
13 years ago

“I know, let’s blame the kids too. I mean, they should be strong enough to fight against the people trying to burn them with cigarettes, right?”
Pat, who other than you in sarcasm is blaming the children? It’s horrible what was done to these children and they had no role whatsoever in it.
And if you don’t agree with Marc’s 49%, please advise an alternate figure and the math used to reach it.

Tim
Tim
13 years ago

Pat,
Is it Local 580 that has blood on its’ hands? A quick question, is there anything you union wankers do that’s quality? Even basics like patching potholes is too tall a task.
Shame!
SusanD,
You can count on Pat blaming the kids before he’ll ever blame Local 580 who put these kids in harms way over and over and over and over again.
Shame!

Pat
Pat
13 years ago

Truth hurts, don’t it, guys…
Yah, lets blame 580, the folks who advocate for the kids.. the Gov… no, he’s just defending the Bosses..
7 tax cuts in 10 years… thanks conservatives…

SusanD
SusanD
13 years ago

Fourth highest taxed state in the country.
Thanks, Rhode Island Democrats.

WJF
WJF
13 years ago

It is amazing that the only options Pat can see are to have the gov’t tend the kids or the kids suffer. Is it possible that this population of children were better off before the gov’t took the role of protector?

Teresa
Teresa
12 years ago

I say let’s make DCYF workers video tape their cases when going to a home, just like police have video camers to protect themselfs. Bet you there won’t be as many children being taken away from the parents. Don’t forget the foster parents. This is a nice way to get extra money from the State all you do is claim you spent this much on a child and you get back. There is no way knowing if they even spent money on the child. Operation Rhode Island DCYF and Fostercare make money and use the children. There are some very loving fostercare people out there that do care for the children.

annonomous
annonomous
12 years ago

I have recently been kept from seeing my kids because of a girl who regularly tells dcyf lies.
The girls story doesnt hold water starting right from the dates she gives on down. They interviewed my kids and my wife. niether gave any reason for dcyf to believe anyone in my house was in danger. a week has gone by and i still cant see my kids.my wife has made countless calls to the investigator and all her supervisors and nobody will call back. The accusations stem from 3 sleepovers at my home. All sleepovers were with a group of girls and dcyf has spoken to none of them. Meanwhile me and my children are suffering greatly. When my wife finaly got someone to answer thier phone the supervisor said “glad you called back you didnt leave your number”. That was a straight out lie because she gave name and who she had been trying to get in touch with on the message and she thinks the number. He said one of the people she was trying to get ahold of was at his desk right now and verbaly called for him. Why couldnt he have verbaly gotten the number from him also? This whole system is very broken and me and my family will never trust the state of R.I. again. hopefully if this ever ends we have made up our minds that we are out of this state. I love R.I. but im gone!

Teresa
Teresa
11 years ago

DCYF is nothing more than a quick way to make a lot of money using kids. They are no better than HITLER. What happened to to saving the abused children. Now they just take any child they get their hands on. They take them for any reason. When is it gonna stop. DCYF DESTROYS FAMILY’S. Why not put camcorders when they go into homes. The police have to camcord the interviews. The same should go for DCYF.

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