Mayor Nutter’s Remarks at the Casey Family Programs Annual Meeting

Mayor Nutter discusses the transformation of the Department of Human Services.



Philadelphia, January 16, 2014–  Mayor Michael A. Nutter delivered a keynote address at the Casey Family Programs Annual Meeting yesterday in Seattle, Washington, detailing the systemic reform of the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services.  His prepared remarks follow, please check against delivery:


“Good afternoon.  Thank you, Dr. Bell, for that all too kind introduction.  Your leadership of Casey Family Programs has had a tremendous impact not just on the foundation but on the many states, communities and groups that receive its help. 


Your commitment to and vision of improvement for child welfare has profoundly helped my City and many others across the country. 


Let me also thank Bob Watt, Chair of the Board of Trustees and all of the Board members.  A shout out to the recently sworn in Mayor Murray for his hospitality here in Seattle.


Over the last few years, we have forged a deep friendship based on mutual goals and commitments.  I am proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, working together.  Let’s give Dr. William Bell, President and CEO of Casey Family Programs, a very big round of applause.


I’d like to recognize Fran Gutterman, Pennsylvania Senior Director, Casey Family Programs and Zeinab Chahine, Regional Managing Director of Casey Family Programs. 


I’d also like to recognize Norman Rice, former mayor of Seattle – the first and only African American mayor of Seattle, who brings his extensive knowledge of community building to the Casey Family Programs Board of Trustees.  Let us also give a big round of applause to Mayor Rice’s wife, Constance, who is here with us today.


Let me congratulate all of the award winners that we and heard from last night.


I’d like to congratulate Marc Cherna, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and member of Philadelphia’s Community Oversight Board – he is receiving the Casey Family Programs Lifetime Achievement Award during the Annual meeting.  Marc has been an excellent source of support to our DHS staff and a friend and mentor to Philadelphia’s Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose.  He has spent his entire career in the human services sector and is truly deserving of this award.


I also want to thank David Sanders, Casey Family Programs Executive Vice President for Systems Improvement and Chair of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services Community Oversight Board.  For years, David has been a compassionate advocate for children and families.  I am proud to call him a partner.


David and the Community Oversight Board have been essential to the reform efforts of our Department of Human Services and the safety and well-being of the children served by our City.


I also want to recognize Anne Marie Ambrose, the Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services.  She is a first rate manager and an inspiring leader.  Her expertise has transformed our Department of Human Services bringing it closer to the agency that the vulnerable children of our city deserve.  She is a tireless, deeply committed, hard working fighter for children and families.  Let’s give her a round of applause.


Let me start by talking about the City I love and how it shaped me.  We call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.  It is also a City of neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive personality, its own strengths and weaknesses woven together to create a community fabric.


I grew up knowing how important a strong family unit and community is to future success.  I was raised by my parents, Basil and Catalina, with the help, love and support of my extended family and neighbors.  My West Philly neighborhood was more than just where I lived – it was my community, my home.

I helped my neighbors and they helped me stay on the right path.  I played there.  I got my first job there.  I was encouraged to achieve there. 


My successes are a credit to my family, my support network and my community.  And so, I chose to dedicate my life to growing that sense of community and to making my hometown the best it can be.  I am a life-long Philadelphian and I’ve been a public servant most of adult life – and proud of it. 


Today, I want to talk to you about the importance of collaboration, ownership and innovation for building communities of hope, communities where vulnerable children are able to succeed, communities where children are cared for and protected. 


I have come to believe that child welfare is a community responsibility – a responsibility that every citizen should take part in and have pride in; a responsibility that utilizes available resources like schools, the police and the courts; a responsibility that requires partnered effort.


Casey Family Programs has been a critical partner to my City throughout our own reform process.  Its efforts and support have strengthened our Department of Human Services – and for that, I am truly grateful. 


As a quick aside, I want to thank all of the Casey Family staff in the room.  Your work has been invaluable to my team and many other teams across the country.


I know that ownership, collaboration and innovation are concepts that you are working to integrate and utilize throughout Casey Family Programs.  I hope that Philadelphia’s story – one of challenges but also reform and success can act as a case study of those principles in action.


The story I want to tell you is one of an agency in crisis, an agency failing vulnerable children and families, an agency in dire need of change.  It is also a story of transformation and dramatic improvements…


So much improvement that last year, our Department of Human Services was the only American entity recognized by the United Nations with the U.N. Public Service Award – we received Second Place, for improving the delivery of public services.


But, to understand how far we’ve come, you need to know where we were.  In 2005, three years before I became Mayor, a young girl with cerebral palsy named Danieal Kelly was placed under the supervision of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, the agency charged with providing service to children and families and protecting children at risk for abuse and neglect. 


A year later, Danieal was dead.  She was 14 years old.


She weighed 46 pounds. 


She was covered in bed sores. 


Her young life was cut tragically short because of neglect.  Neglect by her mother, her father, her case workers and her entire community.  Everyone who should have protected her let her down.


Danieal Kelly’s death set off a firestorm of media scrutiny and public outrage.  I was infuriated by the horrific nature of her death, incensed over how this could have happened.


In the fall of 2006, the Philadelphia Inquirer released a series of articles detailing the absolute failure of the Department of Human Services to protect not just Danieal, but many of the children in its care.


The year Danieal died, the Department of Human Services was responsible for providing in-home services to 6,100 children and monitoring the care of another 6,000 children in dependent, out-of-home placement.  It also provided services to thousands more children at risk of child-welfare intervention.


At the time, DHS was an insular agency.  It had no connection to the communities it served.  It didn’t track vital data on the children and families it was charged with helping.  It wasn’t transparent.  Its mission, structure and processes were convoluted.  It had zero accountability.  And, ultimately, it allowed children to fall through the cracks on its watch. 


The Philadelphia Department of Human Services had lost its way, its integrity and the people’s trust.


Then Mayor John Street actively and aggressively responded.  He fired the DHS Commissioner and her top staff.  He issued an Executive Order that created the Child Welfare Review Panel, a group of nine nationally recognized child welfare experts, who performed a comprehensive review of the Department of Human Services and, subsequently, made recommendations on how to improve its efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. 


The 37 recommendations were a total overhaul of the agency – from creating a new mission and core values centered on child safety and reviewing child fatalities to implementing technology in support of social work practices. 


Before his second term ended, Mayor Street created the Community Oversight Board, a team of individuals tasked with monitoring and assessing DHS’s progress in implementing the Child Welfare Review Panel’s recommendations. 


In 2008, I was sworn into office.  Just weeks after my Inauguration, I re-affirmed the City’s commitment to reforming DHS by re-establishing the Community Oversight Board.  The Mayor of the City, the Executive of the County, must take ownership of this work and dedicate him or herself to it.


I hired Commissioner Ambrose, who I can’t praise enough, and together, we began the arduous but rewarding process of turning around a department that desperately needed it.  One month into her tenure, a scathing Grand Jury report from the District Attorney at the time laid out in public the internal dysfunction partially responsible for this tragedy.  Anne Marie Ambrose didn’t blink.  We talked and then we went to work to fix the system.


As I mentioned earlier, our story is a one of transformation rooted in ownership, collaboration and innovation.  I want you to think about these ideas as we work through the second half of this story.


During the last six years, the Department of Human Services instituted comprehensive organizational and structural reforms and implemented all of the Review Panel’s recommendations, although some recommendations require continued monitoring.


The reform work began with a culture change – the focus of the agency shifted to a safety model of practice, which enables the agency to better identify and focus its resources on children at the greatest risk of abuse or neglect.  Child safety is the golden standard for the new DHS.  The focus on safety drives the Department’s new mission and core values.


Casey Family Programs brought in their experts to support us throughout the reform process.  Their support helped form our safety model of practice, Hotline Guided Decision Making, our work around strengthening families and our ability to implement complex ideas and initiatives.


In 2009, we established the Division of Performance Management and Accountability to measure the success and overall accountability of DHS using data-driven, evidence-based methods.  It also evaluates case files for consistency and quality and service plans to recommend improvements when necessary. 


Since 2009, the Division of Performance Management and Accountability has reviewed more than 4,500 cases.  This was the first time accountability standards had been established for DHS.


Under the new care model, the Department of Human Services reduced dependent placement by 24%, out-of-state placement by 73%, the number of youth placed in juvenile justice placements by nearly 41% and the number of youth in congregate care by 30% from 2008 to 2013.  We have also seen a decrease in the length of time children remain in placement from about 21 months to just less than19 months.  These are not just numbers – these are lives improved.


We’ve also lowered the homicide count in Philadelphia to 1967 levels.  Those are lives saved, real people and real families not traumatized. 


These tremendous decreases in placement and improvements in stability are a result of innovative initiatives like the Family Finding program, which works to identify biological family members who could serve as a resource for youth in care.


The changes in placement have been incredible – but I believe we can do better.  In the future, we want to increase the number of reunifications of children and families, decrease the number of youth placed in out of home care, increase the number of permanent placements for older youth and improve child and family well being. 


DHS has launched a series of partnered efforts in the world of public safety and education to ensure child safety, improve educational outcomes and create opportunities for future success. 


Also in 2009, we launched the Education Support Center, a partnered effort between DHS and the School District of Philadelphia to address the social and educational needs of children in the child welfare system.  This process allows DHS and the School District to routinely share information and to better target services.


At the beginning of the school year this year, the Department of Human Services began the process of stationing social workers in key schools across the city to help at-risk students.  This partnership is both timely and necessary due to the budget cuts the School District had to make this year, which included eliminating most guidance counselor positions.


On the public safety side, I am proud of the Philadelphia Safety Collaborative, a ten-year long effort to co-locate DHS staff, Philadelphia Police Department Special Victims Unit staff, the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance and members of the District Attorney’s Office into one facility.  Co-location, as we commonly call it, streamlines the investigation process of child sexual abuse cases, while simultaneously reducing the trauma to our most vulnerable victims.


But the most critical reform at DHS has been the launch of our groundbreaking, long-term approach to service delivery, a new initiative called Improving Outcomes for Children.  It is a community based model and single case management system that uses strong community level partnerships to deliver services. 


We created a system in which services are provided from within the community network by people who understand the culture of the neighborhood, we are ensuring a timely and integrated provision of services and positive outcomes.  Families will now have the expertise of DHS staff and the community organizations’ experience, relationships, proximity and knowledge. 

Improving Outcomes for Children clearly defines the roles of community providers, called community umbrella organizations, and DHS staff as supervisors who serve in an oversight capacity and as quality control monitors. 


This process eliminates the overlapping duties and confusion.  Ultimately, this model improves accountability by streamlining responsibility and focusing on safety and prevention. 


The goals of Improving Outcomes for Children are simple:


  • we want more children to remain in their own homes and communities;


  • we want more children to be reunited with their parents or placed in other permanent situations;


  • we want fewer children in congregate care like group homes or institutions; and


  • we want healthy, thriving children in families that work.


  • We’re striving to be more transparent by engaging community members and stakeholders – we regularly host town hall meetings to update community members on DHS’s work. 


  • We established the Commissioner’s Action Response Office to address complaints, concerns and vet suggestions. 


  • DHS began using the Electronic Case Management System to improve the accuracy of files by using a paperless system to log paperwork.  Overall, it reduces redundancy and enables staffers to focus more on the children and less on paperwork.


These are just some of the sweeping changes we have implemented at the Department of Human Services to increase accountability, efficiency and effectiveness, improve processes and enhance child safety and well being. 


We owned our problems.  We didn’t shirk or dodge our responsibilities.  We found great partners with whom to collaborate.  And, we based our actions on new ideas.


Our DHS leadership, and Department’s reform process, benefitted from the collaborative learning experience of Casey Family Programs Peer to Peer Technical Assistance. 


From Chicago, we learned about family building. 


From Florida, we learned about the lead agency approach, which shaped our Improving Outcomes for Children initiative. 


From New York City, we learned about Child Stat, an evaluation tool that encourages everyone involved in a child’s case to come together and discuss outcomes and performance measures.  All of these shared models are being integrated by our Department of Human Services.


And now, we are in a position to offer input to other cities, states and groups about what we do well.  Our work around combating violence, particularly among black men and boys, and all youth, has sparked interest in other cities and communities facing similar challenges.


In our 22nd police district, we are working to reduce youth violence through the Youth Violence Prevention Collaborative, a joint initiative chaired by DHS Commissioner Ambrose, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Judge Kevin Dougherty that aligns existing city programs, new resources and community support to address the root causes of violence.


In 2011, I launched Cities United with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.  Cities United is an engagement initiative to advance the conversation about black on black male violence.  Let me thank Antoinette Malveaux for her work and commitment.  Casey Family Programs is, of course, the lead supporter of Cities United and we benefit from partnerships with United States Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and many others.


In my city, approximately 75-80% of murder victims and perpetrators are black men.  The goal of Cities United is to target high risk neighborhoods and engage black men in the process to find solutions, to focus on violence prevention and intervention rather than prosecution and incarceration.  Since its inception, 50 mayors across the country have joined our Cities United coalition.


Our expectation is that communities will see these programs and want to get involved, to take ownership of their neighborhoods and what happens there, to work together and make their community stronger, healthier and more successful.


Our Department of Human Services learned the hard way that is wasn’t living up to its responsibilities and the children who relied on its services paid the price. 


With a lot of help and a real commitment to change, we worked to completely overhaul the Department of Human Services. 


We utilized external partnerships, like with Casey Family Programs.  We emphasized cross agency collaboration as an important tool to improve service.  We implemented new strategies and approaches, building off of methods with proven track records of success but adjusting it to match the needs of our communities.  We focused on community involvement. 


We improved accountability and responsibility.  We reduced redundancies and inefficient, outdated practices.  We redesigned our service delivery model to build strength at the community level.  We made child safety the priority.  We worked, and continue to work, on rebuilding the City’s trust.  That’s what Mayors and leaders can and must do.


Years after the tragic death of Danieal Kelly, our Department of Human Services is a better agency.  I know that, under Commissioner Ambrose’s strong leadership, our Department of Human Services will only continue to make improvements.


Two years ago, David Sanders, the Chair of our Community Oversight Board, told me the Board was longer needed.  That DHS was back on the right track.  I respectfully said no.  We had more work to do. And we still do.  Our job is to improve outcomes for children, and that work is never done.


Thank you.”

Posted in Mayor's Press Releases, Neighborhoods, Press Release, Topics
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