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Foster care reports disappointing

Editorial | Pending reformative improvements are good but not enough

The state has been committed to a 10-year child welfare reform program since 2006. On Monday, a court-appointed monitor released its latest report on New Jersey’s progress, and while the progress in some areas was encouraging, we are disappointed with some of the findings.

Of 53 goals, so far we’ve only met 21 and only partially met another eight. We missed the other whopping 24 goals.

While the program’s developments in many areas showed some very positive improvement, we can’t help but feel that the changes — impacting our state’s children, its most vulnerable population — aren’t being made quickly or effectively enough.

The most troubling finding was that the percentage of foster children subjected to further abuse after their return home noticeably increased from 2010 to 2011. The expected range for this number was below 4.8 percent, but 2010 saw a 6 percent rate of continued abuse among returned foster children. In 2011, that number reached 8.4 percent.

It’s really unfortunate that N.J. is doing even worse than it expected in this regard. We believe that an issue as pertinent as child abuse, especially among foster children, should attract the attention and effort necessary to alleviate it. It seems to be an issue that should be taking precedence above all the mumbo jumbo we’ve been suffocated with regarding things like the upcoming gubernatorial election and Gov. Chris Christie’s constant beef with constitutionality.

Yet, barely anyone has heard of this report, let alone how it’s affecting children.

Though the reforms are supposed to take place over a 10-year span, it seems that the timeframe leaves a lot of room for children to fall through the cracks. That’s enough time for most of the children affected to be ejected out of the system. Prioritizing this issue not only rightfully improves the lives of countless children, but is also an investment in our society. Foster children are already at-risk youth, and the least the state can do about its state-run programs is to make them capable of nurturing healthy and beneficial citizens.

It seems as though with all the state issues we’ve been seeing lately, we’re pushing an important department aside and overlooking necessary and basic programs that should otherwise sustain New Jersey residents. It’s important for us to keep our priorities straight, especially in times like these when it can become very easy for them to get out of sorts.

Another shortcoming in the report is that foster care family team meetings, which are supposed to occur within 30 days of a child being removed from his or her home, have only been taking place within that specific timeframe 56 percent of the time. This is an improvement from 35 percent last year, but still falls short of the reform’s goal 90 percent. New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake plans to make changes to the supervision of these programs.

While we think improving the officials in charge of the reforms is a necessary start, we also think it’s important for the state as a whole to recognize and play an active role in alleviating this societal problem. It’s important that we keep issues regarding children and families at the forefront. After all, to New Jersey residents, what else is more important?

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