Department of Social Services informs Senate of youth assistance programs

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On Friday, Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez briefed senators on the Division of Child, Youth and Family Services and the Division of Intervention and Prevention Services within the Department of Human Services, drawing attention to the need for additional staff in both divisions.

Senators Carla Joseph and Steven Payne stepped aside during Friday’s hearing. (legislative photo)

DCFS provides in-home services to children and families in the territory to reduce the neglect of child abuse and provides services to facilitate the reunification of children with their families or an alternate permanency option for their well-being.

“The division is understaffed,” Causey-Gomez said. “With the exception of the St. Croix District Foster Care and Adoption Unit, all other DCFS units have critical vacancies.”

Although it needs additional staff to ensure effective operations, the division continues to provide advocacy and counseling services to children. In 2021, the division also successfully partnered with the Virgin Islands Housing Authority to provide housing assistance to 25 residents.

The department’s DIPS assists youth with behavioral issues and those at risk and involved in the juvenile justice system. It includes district offices, the youth rehabilitation center and the Anna’s Hope group home.

The senators asked Causey-Gomez about some of the operations of the facilities under the divisions. Not only was maintenance a concern, but the effectiveness of the programs offered to young residents, particularly at the CRY, was also a concern.

“I think the last time I worked at the YRC must have been in the very early 90s,” said Senator Franklin Johnson, who referred to a visit he made to the facility in December. “I was very sad just looking at this building and installation. The grass was knee high, the building seems to be the same color as I left it… I don’t know what the interior, but I don’t have much hope that it will look much better than I left it.”

Senator Franklin Joseph speaks with members of the Department of Human Services during Friday’s hearing for the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation. (legislative photo)

Senator Steven Payne said the facility looked like a “baby Golden Grove”.

Of the YRC residents, Senator Johnson said “we are promoting them and graduating them at Golden Grove.”

Causey-Gomez said $1 million was awarded to DHS on Thursday to address site issues at the YRC and the DIPS Division group home and will be used for that purpose.

Senator Payne inquired about the registration process for residents at the YRC and how their length of stay is determined. He expressed frustration that the residents are not being rehabilitated, but rather appear to be detained only when DHS Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin said the “YRC is not a rehabilitation center” but rather “a rehabilitation program.” diversion”. Payne responded and said the YRC should be called the “Youth Detention Center” instead.

Regarding staffing, Causey Gomez told the Legislature that recruiting employees will add “manpower” to the efforts of different units. The DIPS office needs two social workers in Sainte-Croix, two social workers and two administrative assistants for St. Thomas-St. John district. The YRC program requires a correctional officer, a food service worker, a social worker and two residence counsellors. The DCFS division needs a district leader in its protection unit in Sainte-Croix. And the Foster Care and Adoptions Office of St. Thomas-St. John’s District also needs a District Manager and two Residential and Principal Advisors within DCFS.

Sen. Carla Joseph inquired about the burnout potential of current DHS employees, based on the Causey-Gomez workload presented to the agency. Senator Joseph also asked what the department was doing to address employee burnout.

“There’s always potential for burnout,” Causey-Gomez said. “Sometimes just taking personal time off from work is the best fit.”

The senses. Samuel Carrion, Steven Payne Sr., Dwayne DeGraff, Carla Joseph, Alma Francis-Heyliger and Franklin Johnson were present.

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