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Rez DFS heads share concerns about outdated equipment, slow program reviews
Jun 20, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
Directors from the Department of Family Services for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes aired their concerns with the Wyoming Department of Family Services on June 9 before the Select Committee on Tribal Relations at Central Wyoming College.
Old computers, outdated software, a delay in contract agreements and reviews in the programs were among some of the issues that pose problems for the departments.
NADFS director James Trosper first communicated to the committee the timeline of the reviews completed on the department. He said NADFS and the Northern Arapaho Business Council requested a review of the NADFS program several years ago from the state DFS to identify any strengths and weaknesses.
Just recently, the National Resource Center for Tribes agreed to provide on-site operation inspections, interviews and other reviews.
"We ended up having to go to the National Resource Center, because when we requested it from the state, we didn't get it," Trosper said.
The National Resource Center operates through the Federal Children's Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was then that the state DFS requested they perform the case file portion of the evaluation.
"All of sudden they were interested in looking at the department," Trosper said, noting that the process is set to conclude in July.
The state and the Wyoming Citizen Review Panel reviewed 14 cases that were open from Jan. 1, 2013, to June 30, 2013, and submitted the report to the tribe in February. That report immediately received media attention, Trosper said, adding that they were unable to submit their response to the report before that occurred, and the full federal reviews still were not complete.
"Unfortunately, this has presented a false impression to the public and families about the NADFS program," stated the program's response in May.
State DFS director Steve Corsi said that in the reviews of child protective services cases with the NADFS, there were areas that needed additional attention.
"We have narrowed it down to 12 most significant findings," Corsi told the committee, adding that the department will focus on those to address the safety and well-being of children.
Trosper said that some findings were based on complaints from unhappy parents, relatives and employees who were no longer employed by NADFS, and some complaints stemmed from issues happening in departments that NADFS had no control over, such as the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court or Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"NADFS does not dictate to Tribal Court how it writes its rulings or notifies parties of court proceedings," the response said. "Nor does the NADFS control the BIA, which is a federal agency."
Trosper explained a common scenario related to the issue. He said state regulations require 74 hours to set a court hearing when children are removed from their families. In contrast, when children are removed from their families and are placed with extended families, tribal court gives them a month for a hearing to be scheduled. He said 95 percent of children are placed with extended families on the reservation.
"Those are the kinds of issues that we're facing in working in these jurisdictions," Trosper said.
NADFS also deals with state courts, Riverton and Lander police departments, the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, FBI, and BIA police department, which puts them in a unique position compared to the state DFS.
One finding was the lack of intakes entered into the Wyoming Child Assistance and Protection System -- the DFS case management computer system. Trosper gave a few reasons for why this could not be done.
First, he said case workers have little time to enter information into WYCAPS. because of the number of cases each employee is handling.
"It doesn't mean that kids are not safe, (case workers) did what was proper, but the documentation is not there," he said. "We're acknowledging that our workers don't have the time to properly document the cases."
He said the department is developing new protocols to allow workers to have time to make those entries. He also described the system as "antiquated" and in need of updates.
The Wyoming Citizen Review Panel has explained in past reviews that not entering information into WYCAPS leaves out an important component such as perpetrator information that can otherwise compromise the safety of children. WYCAPS also facilitates payments to providers who care for the children and case workers can make use of case management tools through the software.
Training on the system is another request NADFS has made to DFS but has not received, Trosper said. He said a former state DFS employee was providing the training.
"She took all of that knowledge with her, and the person who replaced her hasn't provided that training since then," Trosper said. "Not even their own workers are getting training."
In December 2012, DFS recognized the NADFS for "huge" improvements in its department, including increased face-to-face contact with children. The relationship between the state and NADFS, however, has not improved, Trosper said, adding that he thinks the recent Environmental Protection Agency decision on the reservation boundaries could have changed the cooperation between the departments.
"The state gave us a certificate acknowledging the progress and the good work that we were doing, and now it seems they're looking for ways to leverage that contract," he said.
Trosper pointed out to the committee that NADFS and the tribal court function without the Wyoming Guardians ad Litem program, which is a state- and county-funded division of the Wyoming Office of the State Public Defender and provides attorney GALs for children in juvenile court.
The GAL program provides representation to children in termination of parental rights and appeal cases. The appointments of attorney GALs is mandatory in all abuse, neglect juvenile court cases and supervision and delinquency juvenile court cases.
NADFS also agreed to allow state DFS employees to shadow their employees, and Trosper said this helped develop a "real respect" for their workers.
The contract between the Eastern Shoshone DFS, Eastern Shoshone Business Council and Wyoming DFS was a big concern for director Larry McAdams.
The departments operate under two contracts, but the delay in the state completing them puts a hold on reimbursements returned to the tribes, McAdams said. The tribe pays for the services in the department and then the state is sent an invoice on those expenses.
"Every year we‚Äôve gone up to six months with an expired contract," McAdams said.
Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, suggested the state look into a two-year contract as opposed to revisiting it every year. McAdams said funding also has been a critical issue for the operations of the department, because it also operates its social services department. He said he has requested for funding for two additional positions.
"I would like to see that in our contract this year," he said.
He also brought up the role and job description of the DFS tribal liaison, which is the department communicator between both tribes and the state.
"Is he a third party to our cases?" McAdams asked. "We can't divulge information to a third party."
He said he didn't know what that job description was and that his position could cause a confidentiality problem. He also echoed Trosper's concerns and said his department also has trouble with WYCAPS and needs the training.
"It's not the best system out there, but it does the job," Corsi responded.
Corsi also told the departments that they have included the purchase of new computers in their next budget. He reported to the committee that improvements in the state department were noticeable within a 10-year span and congratulated NADFS for handling 116 caseloads in one month.
"All 116 are safe and are in safe placement as of last Thursday," Corsi said. "One hundred sixteen children in one month is an incredible task."
Committee members suggested the problems be addressed in the new contracts between the departments.