DHS announces massive ‘culture shift’

In the wake of its most recent child welfare controversy with the death of 6-year-old Khalil Wimes, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services told city lawmakers yesterday that it will completely overhaul the way it delivers services, with an emphasis on community support, an increase in accountability on all levels and a decrease in the size of the department itself.

“I think it’s about digging a little bit deeper and providing more quality services to families,” DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said of the “Improving Outcomes for Children” initiative, based on similar efforts in New York and Florida. Ambrose’s testimony came at a budget hearing for the department.

Beginning this year, DHS will move from a dual case management system — consisting, in each case, of the department and a contracted social services provider — to a team model including the family, youth and service and local support networks comprised of over 150 stakeholders.

The announcement comes weeks after the death of Khalil Wimes, a six-year-old severely beaten by his biological parents who had only recently been reunited with him over the objections of his social worker and court-appointed advocate, which led to a call for a more nuanced case-by-case assessment in child custody placements.

While the department has denied any wrongdoing in the Wimes case, Ambrose said the new initiative revolutionizes the very structure that allowed for the oversights in what they are calling a “critical culture shift within the entire child welfare system in Philadelphia.”

Community members will be included in the very framework of child welfare through the use of Community Umbrella Agencies staffed by both city workers and local residents, which will soon oversee case management. DHS began using GIS mapping last year to identify areas beset by service gaps and is hoping that, after CUAs begin serving those areas, no more children will slip through them.

Another reset

This is not the first time DHS tried to overhaul itself following a tragic death. The 2006 death of Danieal Kelly, a disabled 14-year-old who starved as a city-contracted social work agency falsified home visits, sparked a cry for greater oversight of service providers.