Not too many years ago, the Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services was plagued by a series of shocking revelations involving the abuse and neglect of children.

(Xavier_S, ThinkStock)

Things got so bad the Garden State agreed to federal court supervision as part of a class action lawsuit settlement filed by Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group, to make sure New Jersey’s child protection system was completely revamped.

DYFS was abolished, and it was replaced by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, within the newly created Department of Children and Families.

DCF Commissioner Allison Blake says over the past 10 years the department has had the opportunity to build a solid and much stronger foundation for Jersey’s child welfare system, and there are several concrete examples.

“Our caseloads are down significantly and so as a result of that our staff has an opportunity to spend much more time with families,” she said. “We’ve had an almost 40 percent reduction in the number of children going into foster care, and at the same time we have twice the number of foster homes than we actually have children in care. We have an abundance of resources in that regard and I think that’s really a good indicator of the success of the change.”

The commissioner said the majority of cases they’re working on today involve children in their own homes.

“We’re really not placing as many children in foster care,” she said. “We’ve really been very focused on strengthening families and supporting them in their communities and that’s really a big shift for us.”

Blake said there are far more resources available to support families in their communities today than there used to be.

“We’ve developed a statewide network of family success centers,” she said. “These are neighborhood centers where families can go to access resources, learn about services that are available and just get connected to other families who may have similar experiences to their own.”

She also said New Jersey’s child protection system has become so strong that “we’re now considered a model for other states and countries, there are now delegations traveling from other states across the country to visit different parts of our system so they can learn our model and the outcomes we’re achieving for children and families.”

Among the states that have visited DCF this year are Colorado, Utah and Delaware, as well as South Africa.

Blake also said New Jersey’s child abuse data management system – New Jersey Spirit – has become a model for other states, “and our IT department is helping other jurisdictions get their systems up and running.”

The bottom line, the commissioner said, is “we’re achieving better outcomes for children and families and it’s something that New Jersey can feel very good about.”

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