Philadelphia's child welfare system isn't failing, its leaders say, but it's just barely passing the grade.
Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa was to release a scorecard Thursday analyzing the performance of the 10 Community Umbrella Agencies, or CUAs, the organizations contracted to manage the 10,000+ children getting services from, or in the custody of, the city.
Seven out of the 10 organizations, on an A-through-F scale, received a score of D, or unsatisfactory. The others got Cs.
"Being transparent, I think this is an accurate reflection of where we are," Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa said. "Given this huge reform effort, nobody's failing but we're just above that area and we have a few folks that are doing a much stronger job than others."
The CUA system, fully up and running in 2015, had never been evaluated. The system flipped the old DHS on its head, dividing the city into 10 geographic areas, each with its own CUA. The goal was to keep social workers and offices in the communities they serve.
To come up with its scorecard, the city considered adoptions, the frequency and quality of home visits, case planning and the preparation and training of the workforce, among other criteria. The categories were weighted based on their importance.
Deaths or near-deaths of children in the care of an organization weren't factored into evaluations. Figueroa said DHS looked at other jurisdictions and talked to national experts and none recommended using deaths as a consideration in evaluations.
"They're really devastating cases to review and the circumstances don't always align necessarily," she said. "I think every CUA has experienced some fatality."
Bethanna, in Center City and South Philadelphia, ranked last.
"Though we are disappointed to be numbered amongst 70% of the CUAs who are listed as unsatisfactory, we remain diligent in our efforts and passionate in our service to the community," said CEO Karen Hamilton in a statement. "In short, our findings reflect administrative and operational strain on our infrastructure."
The C grades earned by the best-performing CUAs – Turning Points for Children and Catholic Community Services – meant they were "competent." (Turning Points for Children has two locations – one in the lower Northeast and one in Southwest Philadelphia. Catholic Community Services works with families in the Northeast.)
"I'd like to be proud of that," said Mike Vogel, CEO of Turning Points for Children. "In my grading system, being average isn't really good enough."
One of the biggest challenges facing all of the organizations, Vogel said, is an outdated data system at DHS that spits out reports four to six weeks late. He also cited high caseloads. DHS recently approved funding to bring the ratio of workers to cases down to 1 to 10. Given high turnover rates, he said, an ideal ratio is 1 to 7.
"This is really hard work and we ask people to do really hard work," Vogel said. "We still believe collectively that our caseloads are too high."
Because none of the organizations got a failing grade, none are at immediate risk of losing their contract. In fiscal year 2018, the city will pay $93.5 million to the 10 CUAs. In January, DHS will check in on the progress of the organizations. If an organization stays at a D rating for an extended period of time or slips, its contract might be reviewed, Figueroa said.
A performance-based contracting system, rewarding high performers, is to start the following year.