Inclusive Planning

MSU's D'Urso said New Jersey is approaching the controversy in a positive way, but he expressed reservations about current reform efforts.

"I'm not sure the planning is inclusive," he said. "The planning is being held within the departments of state, which is not always a good thing -- to sequester how much input you're going to get from people who are knowledgeable in child welfare. I'm always worried when government circles the wagons and decides how to reinvest and redefine itself without productive input."

To his knowledge, he said, no one from the 1997 panel nor other leaders in child welfare have been asked to join the current planning process -- though early discussions did include the possibility of outside input. Agency heads know their business, D'Urso acknowledged, but a narrow approach doesn't address a crucial fact of government.

"Government is a collaborative effort among an administration, and priorities and ways of managing public service are subject to influence and priorities in terms of each administration's sense of what is right and wrong," he said. "The value of oversight is that it provides alternate opinions that government can either accept or reject, but at least decisions are being made in an informed way."

DHS said it is taking steps to collect broader input. The agency scheduled a public forum in Newark, N.J., to gather opinions for improving children's services, said Joe Delmar, a DHS spokesman. The forum was designed to gather children's advocates, government officials and community service agencies for a series of discussions and workshops on DHS' reform efforts.

Delmar added that DHS would conduct similar meetings in each of New Jersey's 21 counties.

"The idea is to get local communities involved in the process," he said. "It's not a state or government problem, it's often a problem central to that local community. Only by bringing government and local agencies and the community together will we be able to help children."

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor