LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Children’s Rights Group Eying DCF to Make Sure it Complies with Court Order

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) is under fire once again. A federal court monitor criticized the department for failing to supervise children under its care. The court’s involvement stems from a lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights. The organization’s Executive Director and founder Marcia Robinson Lowry tells Managing Editor Mike Schneider that while the department has shown real improvement in recent years, there is concern about its continued progress.

Lowry cites as an example that DCF is no longer making the progress it should the backlog of cases. “The caseloads went down over the last period that is the number of workers went down so the caseloads went up. No worker no matter how good they are can do a good job if they have too many cases.”

Another example she cites is the reduced number of visits children are receiving from DCF workers which she calls a safety issue. In this area, the department, then known as “DYFS,” has a notorious historyof neglect.

“You may remember from several years ago, the story of the four starving boys who were under the supervision of DYFS at the time and who were basically emaciated and workers weren’t doing anything about that.”

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Recent budget cuts has Lowry worried about what’s to come in the near future.

“Both the commissioner of this agency and the governor proposed a budget to the legislature and they cut more than $11 million from it. and one of the things the judge said in court was that the buck stops here meaning with him because he oversees this case and he has the authority to intervene if indeed things start to backslide.”

Lowry says that DCF has indicated a real commitment to implementing the court decree and expects the state will move forward in improving its performance. And according to Lowry, there is much work to be done.

“There are 54 benchmarks in the agreement about the performance with regard to children and the state has only met 20 of them. That’s too few.”

She doesn’t have to rely solely on the department’s promise. The court order gives her organization the option to go back to court and require the state to comply. She doesn’t want to go that route, but will do so, saying “the children are dependent on this agency performing the way the court requires it to perform.”