STATEMENT OF DAVID S. LIEDERMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,
CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, INC.
Mr. LIEDERMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am David
Liederman from the Child Welfare League of America.
Chairman FORD. We are pleased to have you.
Mr. LIEDERMAN. I am happy to be here.
I think you know, Mr. Chairman, that the Child Welfare League
has had a 73-year history of working on behalf of abused,
neglected, and otherwise vulnerable children. We are made up of
700 organizations, both public and not-for-profit, including 34 members
here in Illinois. We are grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, for your
leadership, and to Mr. Matsui and to all of the members of the
committee for your great leadership on behalf of kids. We hope that
you will be there for us. We need you. We are in a deep crisis in
this country, and we need all of the help we can get. You have been
there for us in the past, and I hope you will be there for us now.
We are particularly grateful that you are here today, because I
think Illinois is one State among many that is under siege. Child
welfare systems across the country are really overwhelmed and are
having great difficulty keeping up. You know the numbers, and I
am not going to go through them all -- 3 million children reported
abused and neglected last year. Three children die in this country
every single day as a result of abuse and neglect.
The States are overwhelmed, and they lack the stable leadership,
support, and resources that they need to carry out the job. Funding
is especially inadequate. There are lawsuits pending in nearly half
of the States in this country because the States have not provided
the resources or protections children need and deserve. That is true
here in Illinois, and it is true in States across the country.
Caseloads are dangerously high. The Child Welfare League of
America recommends that caseload ratios for responsible practice
should be between 13 and 17 cases per worker. In child protective
services, there is not a State in the country that meets these ratios.
Many States operate with workers handling 70, 80, 90, or 100
cases at a time. I would suggest to you, Mr. Chairman, that the
caseworkers cannot help children or families when they have those
kinds of caseloads. All they do is push paper, and they are lucky
if they can do that.
There is also inadequate training for foster parents, for
caseworkers, for core personnel, and for administrators. I would
suggest to you that it is not in the best interest of children or families
in this country to hire someone with a B.A. in history, give them
3 weeks of training, and turn them loose. We need to do better
There is a lack of stable leadership in child welfare. In the last
2 years there has been a 50 percent turnover among State directors
of child welfare programs. That is outrageous. Generally Governors
want to hire someone who walks on water. They want to hire
someone who will keep the issues out of the press and not
provide any additional resources but perform magic and make sure that
these extremely vulnerable families somehow just keep muddling
Unfortunately, as we have seen here in Illinois, we are dealing
with some very very difficult situations, and too many children like
Joseph Wallace are dying.
Our very first priority has been and will always be to assure the
safety of abused and neglected children and to make sure that
their best interest is served. To do that, you have got to have
experienced people. Unfortunately, many times the people making
judgments in this business are rookies. This is no place for rookies.
This is where you need the most experienced and the most
seasoned people, the best clinical people making expert
judgments on what ought to happen with the child and what ought to happen
with the family. We get into great difficulty when we don't have
our most experienced and our best clinical people making those
kinds of judgments.
We also need the full array of child welfare services. We need
quality child protective services. We need quality family
preservation services. We need quality foster care by
nonrelatives and by relatives. We need quality adoption services.
We need quality group residential programs. We need quality
independent living services. We need the whole range -- the
whole array of services -- because that is what will work for kids
and families in this country. It is important that we have this
full array of services in every jurisdiction.
It is unfortunate that some among us favor one type of service
over another type of service and pit one service against another
service. Some suggest that if you do family preservation you won't
need foster care, or that all family preservation is lousy and we
should just move children into foster care. That is absolute non-
sense, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I have been
doing this work for 30 years, and this is nonsense. We need all of
the services, all must be quality services. It does not do anyone any
good to pit one service against another. There are no magic bullets.
I was doing gang work in Boston in the 1960s in public housing
projects. At that time, some suggested that the magic bullet was
to take all of the kids from the inner city and send them to forestry
camp that somehow they would do 2 months in forestry camp and
would come back to the city cured of whatever it was they
supposedly had. We know that, for some kids, that kind of an
outward bound experience absolutely works and for other kids they would
not last 2 seconds, because there are not any magic bullets. The
same is true of all of the child welfare services that we offer and
that we need to have.
Safety is the first concern. In high-risk situations, if I am a
clinician and I walk into an absolutely high-risk situation, I
will immediately separate the child from the family and evaluate
the situation; but make sure that the child is safe because safety
is the first concern. In high-risk situations, separation from the problem needs
to take place.
In manageable risk situations, as a first step, intensive family
preservation services are required to eliminate or substantially
reduce the risk, to determine whether or not, with appropriate
services, we can keep the family together. We owe that to the fami-
lies -- to try, as a first step, to determine whether or not we can
keep the family together, assuming that we understand that there
is a manageable risk that we believe we can control. And, if that
is the case, then we ought to take that course.
I have had the pleasure to travel this country, and I have been
in every State. I have personally visited countless programs and
have talked to workers of every sort. I have been to programs in
Kentucky and Missouri and California and New York and Iowa and
every part of this country. I have been to family preservation
programs. I have seen them in action in our neighboring
State of Michigan which is where Mr. Camp is from. Michigan has a very
successful family preservation program that has been working for
a number of years,
We must be real clear about the goals of family preservation. The
goal of family preservation programs is to enable children and
youth to remain safely with their families. It is incorrect to
suggest, as some have, that family preservation is about keeping
children in unsafe homes. That is nonsense. That is not what family
preservation is about. Family preservation is about ensuring that
children and youth can remain safely in their own homes. That is
what it is about. Trained caseworkers are on the scene in the home
within 24 hours of referral. Services are provided in the home on
a daily basis, where caseworkers can monitor danger signals, and
work with parents and children to limit any threat of violence.
Workers are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, to provide
protection and support for children and other family members. The
caseloads are small -- usually two or three families -- so that the
experienced caseworker can spend time with those families.
I spent a whole day in the Bronx, where the home builders
program was running a program with families. There are no more
complicated situations than those that exist in New York City and
in an urban area such as Chicago, which are complicated by drugs,
AIDS, and crazy things that we would rather families did not have
to deal with.
I must tell you that I could not have been more impressed with
the people who were working with the children and the families --
their commitment to the family, their ability to reduce and manage
risk, and to achieve reachable goals. That is the purpose of family
I know I am exceeding my time, so let me wind down here, Mr.
Chairman. I will wrap up.
Family preservation is not a panacea. However, it is appropriate
for some children and for some families. It is not appropriate for
all children and families. When a child's safety cannot be assured
in the home, the child must be removed on a temporary or
permanent basis. These children need foster care, either with
kin, with family, or with nonrelatives, or group residential care. We need to
figure out what the right situation is. We might be talking about
an adoptive home for some kids because that is what is called for.
So we need to look at the options.
What we have before us now in the Congress is major legislation
that we have been working on for several years, which would put
significant resources in the child welfare system. As passed in the
House, it would put $1.5 billion over the next 5 years not just into
family preservation but into many other improvements in the child
welfare system. It makes more kids eligible for the Federal
program. It improves the foster care system. It takes numerous
steps that are really critical to kids and families in this country.
So Mr. Chairman, we need you. We were very disappointed
that the senate did not have the wisdom of the House to include
family preservation in the budget reconciliation bill. We need your
leadership. You have got to get this one in conference because
this money is absolutely critical. It is absolutely critical to
Illinois, to every jurisdiction, and to every State in this
country, if we do not want more deaths like Joseph Wallace's.
We will make sure that this legislation is passed into law and
signed by the President.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement follows:]