A report has been released with recommendations for improving the state’s support of local Children’s Services Act program administration. This report has its roots in last year’s study of the Children’s Services Act by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which generated a series of recommendations, including a recommendation that the General Assembly direct the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) to provide for the effective implementation of the Children’s Services Act by monitoring local program administration and working with those programs that are “underperforming” to develop a corrective action plan.
The November 2020 JLARC report pointed out that OCS’s statutory authority to intervene with local programs extended only to enforcing compliance with statutes and policies, and that OCS’s ability to ensure effective program implementation was unclear. As a result, legislation was enacted during the 2021 General Assembly session to add to the OCS Executive Director’s responsibilities in statute a requirement to provide for the “effective implementation of the Children’s Services Act…in all localities by (i) regularly monitoring local performance measures and child and family outcomes; (ii) using audit, performance, and outcomes data to identify local programs that need technical assistance; and (iii) working with local programs that are consistently underperforming to develop a corrective action plan for submission to the Office [of Children’s Services] and the [State Executive] Council.” Language in the 2021 Appropriation Act directed OCS to report on the implementation of these new requirements, to develop a plan to modify its staffing and operations “to ensure effective local implementation of the Children’s Services Act,” and to collect information from local CSA programs regarding program staff and local and state administrative funding on an annual basis in order to target technical assistance to the programs in most need. The 2021 Appropriation Act also included funding for a new position at OCS to assist in carrying out this enhanced oversight responsibility.
OCS convened a workgroup to help develop the implementation plan required by the 2021 budget language; VACo participated in this workgroup, which met several times in the fall. The workgroup discussed ways that OCS could monitor local programs for signs of distress, based on data sources already available, audit report findings, and potential indicators that could be developed in the future. Workgroup members discussed the importance of context in evaluating certain data points and the need to engage local programs prior to making assumptions about program effectiveness. The report recommends bolstering OCS’s ability to assist local programs by adding four staffers, in addition to the position funded in the 2021 Appropriation Act, who would serve as regional consultants to support local programs, similar to the structure of regional support within the Department of Social Services.
OCS included information on administrative funding for local programs in the report, pointing out that state General Fund support for administrative costs is approximately $2.1 million per year, with $1.1 million in local matching funds. This funding is divided among the local CSA programs such that each locality receives the larger of $12,500 or an amount equal to two percent of the total state pool allocation; in FY 2022, 95 localities received a total of less than $20,000, including the local matching funds, and 114 of 130 local programs received less than $50,000. Localities reported providing an additional $5.7 million above the $3.2 million in state/local administrative funds to support local CSA programs. The report notes, “As the program has grown more complex and greater accountabilities instituted, localities have uniformly made known that the state administrative support is insufficient.”
The report recommends that the state provide additional administrative funding to bring all local programs to a minimum allocation of $50,000 (including the local match), contingent on localities hiring a full-time CSA coordinator or demonstrating why a full-time coordinator is not needed and explaining how the funds would be used to support the local program.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle