Update on Rylan’s Law – The Family and Child Protection and Accountability ActImproving North Carolina’s Child Welfare System
House Bill 630 (S.L. 2017-41), the Family and Child Protection and Accountability Act, is strengthening North Carolina’s social services and child welfare systems.
Known as Rylan’s Law, the bill calls for the reformation of North Carolina’s child welfare and social services systems to improve child safety and increase transparency and accountability. Major changes include North Carolina Division of Social Services (DSS) shifting from centrally located offices mainly in Raleigh, NC, and expanding supervision to regionally-based locations across the state to better support and monitor County Departments of Social Services. Rylan’s Law provides a blueprint to create statewide capacity to protect children and promote safe and stable families, while incorporating evidence-based, trauma-informed, and culturally competent practices.
Key Components of Rylan’s Law
Recent federal and statewide reviews have identified troubling gaps and flaws in North Carolina’s child welfare system that place children’s safety at risk. Transforming the child welfare system is necessary to better ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families. The child welfare system evaluations concluded that counties require improvement in areas such as providing services to families to prevent child removals, increasing efforts to achieve permanency, and supporting the child welfare workforce.
Rylan’s Law changes how DSS supervises all 100 North Carolina County Departments of Social Services. At present, approximately 125 DSS employees are focused on the child welfare system. Some specialize in training or policy, and others focus on improving service delivery through quality assurance and program monitoring. While a portion of these employees cover specific regions, not all do. By March 1, 2020, Rylan’s Law will create regional offices that provide regional supervision and support to County Departments of Social Services. Each County Department of Social Services will be part of a region of counties, and DSS staff will monitor and support these regions.
There are five key components of Rylan’s Law that drive this transformational work. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) oversees DSS and is leading the charge. The key components include the following.
1. System Reform Plans
The most important component of Rylan’s Law is the requirement of an independent assessment by a third-party organization to evaluate our current system. The resulting recommendations will provide a new vision and strategic direction for social services, including child welfare.
The Center for the Support of Families (CSF) was selected to perform the independent assessment. Since beginning work in March 2018, CSF has collected extensive data, administered surveys, and met with state, county, and community stakeholders across North Carolina to develop preliminary recommendations for child welfare and social services programs. In September 2018, CSF concluded phase one of their work by releasing two preliminary reform plans: one for child welfare and one for social services. DHHS will use the preliminary recommendations as a roadmap to improve support and oversight of social services programs, enhance child safety, and protect children from harm. The preliminary reform plans can be reviewed here.
Phase two of CSF’s work will include further development of the preliminary reform plans, including additional engagement with state and county leaders and community stakeholders. The final recommendations will be released at the conclusion of phase two in February 2019. Phase three provides for continued oversight and monitoring of the implementation activities.
2. Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group
In 2017, as part of Rylan’s Law, the North Carolina General Assembly established the Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group (SSWG). Its purpose is to develop recommendations for improving state supervision of the county-administered social services system via a system of regional state offices.
The work of the SSWG has two stages. During stage one, the group developed recommendations regarding the size, number, and location of regional state offices and identified responsibilities of central, regional, and local officials in supervising and administering social services programs. The SSWG concluded stage one in March 2018; its recommendations can be found here. In stage two, which is currently underway, the SSWG will build on concepts developed in the first stage. The primary focus is to develop recommendations regarding legislative and regulatory changes that improve collaboration. A report containing stage two recommendations will be released in February 2019. You can keep up with the activities and recommendations of the SSWG at https://unc.live/2xD19Fe.
3. Corrective Action – Memoranda of Understanding
Effective July 1, 2018, Rylan’s Law requires all 100 County Departments of Social Services to enter into an annual performance agreement with DHHS for all social services programs, excluding Medicaid. The agreement contains performance requirements and administrative responsibilities related to child welfare and other social services programs. Ultimately, a data dashboard will be available to the public so counties and citizens can easily access program data and performance.
4. Child Well-being Transformation Council
There are several public and private agencies and organizations across the state involved with promoting the welfare of children and protecting them from harm. These stakeholders include community partners from child care, education, health care, social services, and juvenile justice. Though these agencies and organizations provide important services, there is also lack of coordination and communication between those services. To promote a more coordinated approach to services that will help improve outcomes for children, the General Assembly created the Child Well-being and Transformation Council. The council will serve as a multidisciplinary group that will work collaboratively in providing public services to children. The council will consist of 17 members appointed by the Governor and General Assembly.
5. Regional Departments of Social Services
To promote accountability and increased supervision, Rylan’s Law gives counties the option to create Regional Departments of Social Services. This gives counties the flexibility to combine resources and improve the provision of social services among more than one county.
Rylan’s Law provides North Carolina with a blueprint for how we can collectively transform our child welfare system. Since Rylan’s Law was passed in 2017, DHHS and other stakeholders have begun the foundational work of shifting to a regionally-supervised social services system that better protects children and increases transparency and accountability.
As DHHS and other stakeholders engage in this transformative process, updates will be provided to keep readers informed about major developments in this important work.