Youths under the care of the Department of the Human Resources (DHR) are not receiving adequate services, according to a wide-ranging report on DHR. The report, submitted by the Task Force on the Reorganization of the Department of Human Resources, charges that DHR has been unable to administer diversified youth programs because poor management practices have resulted in an inefficient use of the department's funds and staff.
William Barr, director of the Social Rehabilitation Administration (SRA), which administers aid to youths through DHR's Bureau of Youth Services, said the findings of the task force are basically accurate, but argued that a continual shortage of funds, not poor management of the bureau's resources, has eroded youth services in the District. Unless DHR's budget for youth services is increased, he said, the problem will become worse.
The Bureau of Youth Services (BYS) has the primary responsibility for children committed to the bureau by the Juvenile Court System. In addition, the bureau provides services for children awaiting action by the juvenile court.
There are 1,880 children under the care of the Bureau of Youth Services.
Critical staff shortages, excessive use of overtime, poor maintenance of facilities, inadequate educational resources and the use of corporal punishment at the city's two juvenile instititutions in Laurel, Md. - Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill - were among the major problems cited by the task force's Committee on Social Services, which reported on youth programs run by DHR.
These and other findings were submitted by task force chairman Carl Holman in a more extensive report to the City Council on Jan. 30.
The 15-member task force of private citizens and government workers was appointed to study DHR last March by City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Polly Shacleton, chairman of the council on Human Resouces and Aging.
The report also includes a series of detailed recommendations addressing some of the problems cited by the task force.
The committee said BYS lacks critically needed personnel, diversified programming and adequate living facilities for youth.
Because the bureau has mismanaged the resources it has, it often has been without the funds or staff it has needed to remedy the problems, the report said.
"The management deficiencies of BYS (Bureau of Youth Services) reflect on absence of systematic planning and on inability to provide the administrative leadership necessary for delivering effective rehabilitative services," he report concludes.
Many of the criticisms focus on DHR's institutional programs. The committee reported that a small number of youth held for months at the city's Receiving Home of Children were "in effect, prisoners in an unhealthy and unsafe structure." Under court ruling issued several years ago, youths are not to be held at the home longer than 24 hours.
Educational programs at the two institutions in Laurel were criticized for their outdated curriculum and textbooks, the lack of substitute teachers and the lack of staff to administer vitally needed vocational education programs. Medical and psychological treatment services also were said to be under par at the two institutions.
Programs at the community group homes are no better, the report said. (The task force inspected five of the 13 homes in operation.) The committee charged that DHR "has failed to develop varied types of facilities and programs necessary to address the diverse needs of youths in these homes."
In addition, the report concluded, maintenance at the homes is so poor "they threaten the health and safety of residents. In at least two homes, the basement floods in rainstorms; in one home, the furnace is defective, and in another the porch is resting on rotten timbers."
In a letter sent recently to Mayor Walter E. Washington, council members Tucker and Shackleton said some of the task force recommendations merited "the immediate attention of this government." They asked the mayor to join them in taking immediate budgetary and legislative action to improve DHR programs.
Of grave concern to Tucker and Shackleton was the committee's findings that corporal punishment is being used at the Children's Center in Laurel. They urged that additional funds be provided for the Public Defender Service to operate a legal offcie at the center to handle any allegations of abuse or other complaints from the children. In the letter, Shackleton said she plans to ask the council to include funding for the program in the supplemental budget for fiscal year 1978.
The two council members also advised the mayor to establish a commission to act as a liaison between DHR and judges in Juvenile Court. The commission would help DHR and the court formulate policies that would allow both to administer services to youths more efficiently and to develop innovative youth programs.
SRA director Barr argued that the Bureau of Youth Services does not need new management but more money. He said a decade of budget and staff cuts, coupled with rising costs, has "reduced this office to a shell.
"In my opinion our resources have come to the point where we're at a crisis situation," he said. "Unless we get a turn around we run the risk of state neglect of the children. Programs have been cut too much. We cut out the fat and we've started cutting into the bone."
Barr said the Bureau of Youth Services is operating at a level close to "pure" custodial care. Too few qualified counselors and treatment specialists (such a psychologists) are available for institutional or community programs, he said, and existing staff is being overworked. Maintenance problems are being attended to with patch jobs or are given no attention at all. And while programs are being planned, there are not enough people or enough funds to administer them, he said.
Unless the agency receives more money, he said, "we're going to continue to deteriorate. I'm not quarreling with that report. What has to be understood is the reason for all the criticisms."
Since 1973, the bureau has had more than 400 positions eliminated through city-imposed cutbacks, he said. Of those eliminated, about 60 were positions for counselors, social workers and treatment specialists that are sorely needed now, he said.
The task force report said the Bureau of Youth Services was shortchanged on staff because DHR had made poor decisions on which positions to eliminate in the bureau.
According to Barr, SRA officials decided joinlty how to eliminate positions in the administration's three bureaus.In turn, Barr said, youth services decided to make most cuts by attrition.
Presently 547 of the 593 positions in the bureau are filled. Barr said most of the vacancies are for counselors and treatment specialists. In the past five years the bureau's budget has been increased from about $10 million to more than $13 million. However, Barr said the increases primarily were to cover cost increases in services provided and workers' salaries. Funds still are not available for promotions or to hire new employees.
Until last October, a hiring freeze prevented the agency from hiring new counselors and guards, he said, and once the freeze was lifted funds were not available
Now the department is waiting for congressional approval of its budget request of more than $14 million for fiscal year 1978. (The department, like the rest of the District government, is operating without a fiscal 1978 budget but under funding levels for fiscal 1977.) Included in that $14 million, is $700,000 which had been earmarked for other purposes. DHR revised its total budget and asked that the $700,000 be used to hire new personnel for the Bureau of Youth Services.
Until the agency reaches an adequate staffing level. Barr said, they will continue to use existing staff for overtime assignments.
In 1977, the youth services bureau used 100,000 overtime hours at a cost of $1.2 million. However, the agency only has half of that money, said Barr.
"I don't know where the overtime money is coming from," he said. "We don't have as much as we spend."
As the need for overtime funds arose, the money will be shifted from some other part of the budget, he said. All staff will be paid.
Barr said their budget and staffing limitations has forced them to "operate on crisis-oriented management. We plan from crisis to crisis."