On August 8, I sat through another heartbreaking House Oversight Committee hearing about the troubles at the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Hearing after hearing, I have listened to horror stories about children in state care. I also hear from social workers, child protection workers and families about the continued failings of our child welfare system. Enough is enough!
Rhode Island is blessed to have Jennifer Griffith, our child advocate, who isn’t afraid to do the job she was asked to do. She performs her job with integrity and honesty and doesn’t have to worry about who she upsets. Why? Because she is statutorily appointed for five years with the advice and consent of the Senate. She can let the chips fall where they will without recourse while exposing the truth – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Unfortunately, we have had three DCYF directors in six years who have had more political fallout than elected officials themselves. They have to serve their families, their workers and the governor, which is no easy task. To say they have all had to walk a fine line is an understatement.
Think about our child advocate and the great work being done in that office. Imagine if the DCYF director was also appointed for a five-year term and didn’t have to worry about political fallout? Imagine if we appointed someone, obviously qualified, who could do the job of serving our most vulnerable the way it needs to be done without worrying about being fired or asked to resign?
The recent announcement of DCYF adding 23 staffers the day before the oversight hearing was nothing more than a political stunt. With the current DCYF director leaving soon, we need to free our new director of such stunts and let he or she do the job they are hired to do – serve our youngest and most vulnerable populations – without fear of political retribution. Jennifer Griffith has served this state well in her term as the child advocate. It is time to let a new director of DCYF do the same. Otherwise, we will continue this downward spiral in child welfare and we will continue to put children at further risk.
I urge new Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services Womazetta Jones to be transparent in the hiring process and ask that she consider requesting a five-year appointment so an incoming DCYF director isn’t handcuffed like those in the past.
If we continue to let children in state care die, the blood is on the hands of this administration.
Representative Julie A. Casimiro, a Democrat from District 31 in North Kingstown, is the second vice chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee