DCF report needs emphasis on transparency

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DCF report needs emphasis on transparency

Vermonters would be better served by evidence that the agency is actively searching for ways to bring oversight into a system so closed to outside scrutiny that problems escape public notice until tragedy strikes.
Back in May, Gov. Peter Shumlin asked then-Human Services Secretary Doug Racine to look into reorganizing the agency following the deaths of two toddlers — 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski in April — whose families had been under DCF investigation.
Dezirae’s stepfather, Dennis Duby, as well as Peighton’s mother, Nytosha LaForce, are facing murder charges in the children’s deaths.
Since then, both the agency and the department have new heads. Racine was fired in August, and DCF Commissioner David Yacavone resigned in September.
The report authored by Acting Human Services Secretary Harry Chen and Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz lists “Address DCF Transparency and Improve Communications” as one of five items under “Proposed New Actions,” the meat of the document.
None of the proposed steps deal directly with giving the public better access to information about how well DCF is protecting children. Instead, the Chen-Schatz report recommends the state:
• Develop a legislative oversight committee for child protection.
• Build a mechanism for ongoing in put and feedback to DCF.
• Create better public access to information about statutory and regulatory guidelines for DCF.
Under the last bullet point, the authors of the report point out that state and federal laws dictate what information about the work done by the department must be kept confidential. The agency’s recommendation is to better explain to the public why the information must be kept private.
A better solution would be to look for ways to change the law, at least state statutes, to make information about cases involving child welfare more readily available to the public.
The difficult issue is to strike a balance between providing enough information to allow members of the public to keep the child welfare system accountable before tragedy strikes, and protecting the privacy of victims.
The Legislature and the Shumlin administration must seek the proper balance to change laws that even allows the courts to withhold the name of the judge involved in a child custody case.
The problems will continue until there is a fuller measure of public accountability for those in government who oversee the state’s child welfare system. These are the officials — elected and appointed — above the front-line case workers who deal directly with the children and their parents.
Laws that throw up such an impenetrable wall works against the interests of the children, families and Vermonters. A government that continues to operate behind a wall of secrecy fails the residents of this state.
Without a firm path to accountability, Vermont risks leaving children at the mercy of their abusers. The responsibility for finding a solution rests with Ken Shatz, Harry Chen and the “transparency governor,” Peter Shumlin. 

By | 2016-10-25T17:47:01+00:00 October 8th, 2014|News|0 Comments