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2005 Testimony

Testimony Before The House Human Services Committee

Clara Sue Price, Chairman

SB 2149 - Authorized agents of DHS for child welfare services

February 9, 2005

Chairman Price and members of the Human Services Committee, I am Paul Ronningen, Director, Children and Family Services with the Department of Human Services. I am here to provide testimony on SB 2149.

SB 2149 provides a definition of “authorized agent” for those entities that conduct child welfare work for the Department. The definition is: “Authorized agent” means the county social service board, unless another entity is designated by the Department. This definition does several things. First it reaffirms that county social service boards are currently the Department's “authorized agent” for delivering the child welfare services of foster care, early childhood services and child protective services. It also supports the collaboration that many counties have developed in delivering child welfare services as multi-county units. In addition, it indicates that the Department may designate another entity to provide these services should the county not be able to provide the service and the county is unable to enter into a multi-county arrangement.

This clarification is being sought since some counties are expressing a concern that they are not able to effectively deliver child welfare services to their counties. They cite very low or high caseloads and supervisors who do not have a child welfare background, training or certification in child welfare. In addition, counties cite the liability of trying to deliver these complex services in a rural area with limited training for law enforcement, states attorney offices and their staff. With this language change, the Department can begin developing a process whereby a county could request that the Department designate another entity to provide these services or the Department could de-designate a county that is not providing adequate services. However, it is the Department's expectation that the county would retain its financial responsibility for these services and these costs would not become an obligation of the state or the designated entity.

The only other change that occurs in this bill is found on pages 11 and 13. A definition is provided for “citizens review committee” on page 11 and on page 13 the phrase “and citizen review committee members” is inserted into section 50-25.1-11 Confidentiality of Records – Authorized Disclosures. The citizen review committee members will thus be a designated entity that reports must be provided to. Citizen review committees are a requirement of the federal government and are now being established in North Dakota.

The Division of Children and Family Services will be forming a Citizen Review Committee, which will be appointed by the Department of Human Services. This committee will meet to review how child protection services are provided in North Dakota, and they will offer suggestions on ways the Division may improve the response to concerns of children being abused or neglected. During these meetings, it may be necessary to discuss information from specific cases, and therefore I am requesting that the Citizen Review Committee members be added to the confidentiality section of our child abuse and neglect law.

I will now walk you through the bill and answer any questions that you may have.


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