TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would create the Department of Children and Families (DCF) as a standalone department in the executive branch to deal with children’s welfare and family support programs was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 7-0.
“With the restructuring of our State’s child welfare and family programs into a separate department within the executive branch, we are making child safety a priority,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chair of the Senate Health panel. “Government has no greater obligation than to protect its most vulnerable, and one of the key missions of the new department will be to oversee the State’s DYFS (Division of Youth and Family Services) system. We’ve made progress with DYFS reform, but a new department, with its own resources and structured goals, will be able to move us light years ahead of where we currently stand.”
The bill, S-2069, would establish the DCF, and transfer the current Office of Children’s Services, in the Department of Human Services (DHS), as well as the licensing of child care centers, youth residential programs and resource family homes, into the new department. The new department would be responsible for DYFS, the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services, which provides mental health services up to age 21, the Division of Community Partnerships, which works with community agencies to help kids avoid substance abuse, and foster care and residential programs. Under the proposal, the DHS would retain its mission in regards to mental health programs, Medicaid, and programs to help the developmentally disabled.
“By separating out the children’s assistance and family support functions of DHS, we can benefit from two independent agencies focused on the tasks at hand,” said Senator Vitale. “Given the necessary attention and resources demanded by DYFS to get that ship back on the right track, a singularly-focused department is essential, and will allow DHS to focus greater attention on programs for the mentally ill and economically disadvantaged. I’m confident that when all is said and done, the DCF and DHS will be able to go much further than the current model to provide a better safety net for those in need.”
The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.