The Department of Human Services, Children's Rights Inc. and the court-appointed monitoring panel have agreed to suspend the pending litigation for 120 days to allow the state to develop clear priorities and refocus the child welfare reform effort, Acting Commissioner Kevin M. Ryan announced today.
The court-appointed panel monitoring New Jersey 's child welfare system brokered the arrangement and outlined the terms in a letter yesterday to U.S. District Court Judge Stanley R. Chesler.
“We will be working closely with the plaintiffs and the panel, our workforce and our communities to re-evaluate the priorities and the sequencing of events required under the reform plan,” Acting Commissioner Ryan said. “People have been working hard here, but it is clear that we have not seen the progress we need for our children. This is a good time to refocus our efforts and make sure we build a system that ensures children's safety and well-being.”
Under the agreement, the contempt motion filed by Children's Rights in December will be held in abeyance for 120 days. During the first 90 days, DHS will develop proposals to:
• Prioritize and sequence the actions outlined in the child welfare reform plan and, if justified, modify some elements of the plan.
• Establish how the state's progress will be monitored in the future, either by modifying the current enforceable items or developing a new document.
• Define the role of the panel, or a successor monitor; and
• Outline the future structure of DHS or a separate Children's Services agency.
“I want to thank my colleagues, Steven Cohen, chairman of the panel, and Marcia Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, for reaching this agreement to work together for the good of the children,” Acting Commissioner Ryan said.
The acting commissioner also announced today that he will create a department-wide Ombudsman to respond to citizens' concerns and complaints to ensure internal accountability.