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Representative Tom DeLay Testimony on Child and Family Services
May 5, 2000




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From the Office of Congressman Tom Delay
H-107, The Capitol, Washington, D.C. 20515 (202) 225-0197
For Immediate Release
MAY 5, 2000
Contact: Jonathan Baron/Emily Miller
Phone: (202) 225-0197

DeLay Encourages Use of Child Advocacy Centers & Volunteers in District of Columbia
Response To Questions Raised In Brianna Blackmond Case

Washington, DC: Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-TX) testified today before an oversight hearing to examine the current reform efforts undertaken by the Child and Family Services Agency to comply with the requirements of the Court Order resulting from the LaShawn A. v. Williams case. The hearing of the Committee on Government Reform's Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, chaired by Rep Tom Davis (R-VA), reviewed the efforts of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency to answer questions raised after the death of foster child Brianna Blackmond in December 1999.

DeLay was invited to testify on the use of private organizations to supplement overwhelmed and understaffed public service agencies. Delay and his wife, Christine, have been active for six years in the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization, which provides millions of volunteer hours of courtroom support for abused children.

Congressman DeLay's prepared testimony follows:

"Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. I applaud the efforts of this subcommittee, and the efforts of the individuals we will hear from on the panels today for their hard work thus far in addressing the challenges faced by the District's child welfare system.

I met with Mayor Williams a few months ago, and it is clear to me that our shared concern with the efficacy of our systems of intervention and treatment on behalf of abused children at the federal, state and local levels supersedes politics and demographics. Mr. Williams's commitment to meeting the needs of the District's children at risk for, and suffering from, abuse and neglect is clear, and I am certain that they will benefit under his administration.

My wife Christine and I have been foster parents to several adolescents over the past few years, and Christine and my daughter serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates — "CASAs" — under the auspices of Child Advocates of Ft Bend in my home state of Texas. We have become well acquainted with the child welfare system through our experiences with our foster children and through our involvement with CASA, and I want to share with you some of the ways our county sought to help abused kids and our over-burdened social work and legal system.

Let me say however, before I begin: As we look at reform in the District, (and if I have my way, reform all over the country), let's remember that the means the system- with all its divisions and standards and social workers and judges and attorneys and public officials- leads to an end. The protection of innocent children who have been or are being hurt by their parent or care-givers.

We owe these children our firm commitment that the systemic problems we know exist will be addressed and corrected and that we will expeditiously seek new and creative ways to make the best interest of the child the paramount concern in each and every child abuse investigation, intervention and rehabilitation.

One of the most effective helps to the overburdened public sector can be the private sector. The involvement of the private sector assures vital and necessary community buy-in. Community buy-in means we will increase awareness as to how child abuse affects and in many cases precipitates — other social problems like substance abuse, crime and delinquency.

One way to involve the community and to address the systemic problems g from heavy case loads and the consequent incomplete and/or late reports to the courts, is the utilization of trained, specialized volunteers like Court Appointed Special Advocates-CASAs — to supplement the investigative work of social services.

CASAs are citizen volunteers appointed by the courts in cases of abuse or neglect. Volunteers go through 30 hours of intensive training with child welfare professionals, and are an independent voice in the process, focusing exclusively on what is best for the child. Many social workers have upwards of 50 open cases at a time, and are overwhelmed with court dates and paperwork deadlines. CASAs handle just one or 2 cases at a time so that they can give each child's case sustained, personal attention.

There are nearly 900 CASA programs throughout the country, including one in the District of Columbia. Any principle in a case can refer the case to CASA: A Social Worker, an attorney, a judge, a therapist, etc. At this time however, only approximately 10% of substantiated abuse cases have been assigned a CASA in DC.

Another way to bring in the Private sector and assist Social Services is to support and utilize Child Advocacy Centers--like Safe Shores here in DC.

Child Advocates of Ft. Bend, in my district, is a not for profit organization that works on behalf of child victims of abuse (birth – age 18) through various advocacy programs, providing services to these children and their families through specially trained community volunteers and staff.

Each program was specifically designed to supplement the overburdened child welfare and legal systems.

Under the umbrella of Child Advocates of Ft. Bend is the Children's Advocacy Center- a collaborative effort by local law enforcement agencies, Fort Bend Child Protective Services, and the District Attorney's office. The goal of the Center is to make the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child sexual assault and severe physical abuse more child focused and timely by centralizing assessment and treatment services, while coordinating professional efforts.

Also operating out of the Children's Advocacy Center is our local Court Appointed Special Advocates program. Referrals for the Center come from law enforcement and CPS, referrals for the CASA program come from family court and CPS.

Having one centralized agency providing services to abused children and their families, and working in tandem with Social Services, law enforcement and the courts, enables programs to combine their strengths and lessens competition for funding, volunteers, community awareness, etc.

I know that the needs and the character of Ft. Bend County are different from the needs and character of the District, and I am a firm believer that one size does not fit all when it comes to the needs of communities. I do believe however, that many of the issues you will be looking at today are not unique to any locale.

In both urban cities and suburbia you will find overworked and underpaid social workers, a lack of systemic coordination and collaboration, and difficulties in meeting deadlines. You will find children languishing in foster care when they should be released for adoption, you will f find a system that is well intentioned, but ill-equipped to care for the increasing number of children who need protection and permanency.

My challenge to you today as you examine the effectiveness of the reforms undertaken in the District of Columbia, is to remember that this is about the child who has died and will die again when deadlines come and go and reports are not completed. This is about children who depend on us to intervene when the family that they were born into can't or won't keep them safe from harm .

I encourage you to draw on the resources of your community. I urge you to look for new ways to address old problems. See what Safe Shores- your Child Advocacy Center can do to improve collaboration and coordination among your child welfare professionals. Give CASA and other volunteers a chance to help your hard working social workers and invest in their community at the same time.

Again, I commend you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing today, and thank you for the opportunity to be here."

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