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The Department of Human Services Updates the Senate on Youth Assistance Programs

Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez updated senators on Friday about the Division of Children, Youth, and Families Services and the Division of Intervention and Prevention Services within the Department of Human Services, bringing attention to the need for additional staffing within both divisions.

Senators Carla Joseph and Steven Payne sidebar each other during Friday’s hearing. (Legislative photo)

The DCFS provides in-home services to children and families in the territory to lower child abuse neglect and provides services to facilitate reunification of children with their families or a different permanency option for their well-being.

“The division is significantly understaffed,” said Causey-Gomez. “With the exception of the St. Croix District Foster Care and Adoptions Unit, every other unit within DCFS has critical vacancies.”

Though it needs additional persons to ensure efficient operations, the division continues to provide child advocacy and counseling services. In 2021, the division also managed to partner with the Virgin Islands Housing Authority to provide housing voucher assistance for 25 residents.

The DIPS in the department assists youth with behavioral problems and those who are at-risk for and involved with the juvenile justice system. It is comprised of district offices, the Youth Rehabilitation Center, and the Anna’s Hope Group Home.

Senators questioned Causey-Gomez about some of the operations of the facilities under the divisions. Not only was maintenance a concern, but the efficiency of the programs available for the young residents, more specifically at YRC, was also concerning.

“I think the last time I worked YRC had to be in the very early nineties,” said Sen. Franklin Johnson, who made reference to a visit he made to the facility in December. “I was very sad just looking at that building and that facility. The grass was about knee-high, the building seems to be the same color that I left it … I don’t know what the inside looks like, but I don’t have much hope of it looking much better than I left it.”

Senator Franklin Joseph talks to the members from the Department of Human Services during Friday’s hearing for the committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation. (Legislative photo)

Sen. Steven Payne said that the facility resembles a “baby Golden Grove.”

Of the residents at YRC, Sen. Johnson said that “We’re pretty much promoting them and graduating them to Golden Grove.”

Causey-Gomez mentioned that one million dollars was awarded on Thursday to the DHS to address site concerns at YRC and the Group Home in the DIPS division and will be utilized to do so.

Sen. Payne inquired about the process of enrolling residents at YRC and how their length of stay is determined. He expressed frustration that residents are not being rehabilitated but instead seems as though they are only being detained when DHS Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin said that the “YRC is not a rehabilitation facility” but instead “a diversionary program.” Payne responded and said that YRC should instead be called the “Youth Detention Center.”

Relating to staffing, Causey Gomez mentioned to the legislative body that recruitment employees will add “manpower” to the efforts of the various units. The DIPS office requires two caseworkers on St. Croix, and two caseworkers, and two administrative assistants for the St. Thomas-St. John district. The YRC program requires a correction officer, food service worker, social worker, and two residential counselors. The DCFS division requires a district manager in its Protective unit on St. Croix. And the Foster Care and Adoptions Office in the St. Thomas-St. John district also requires a district manager and two residential and senior counselors in the DCFS.

Sen. Carla Joseph inquired about the potential for burnout for the current DHS employees, based on the caseload Causey-Gomez presented to the body. Sen. Joseph also inquired about what the department does to combat employee burnout.

“There’s always a potential for burnout,” said Causey-Gomez “Sometimes, just taking personal leave away from the job is best suited.”

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

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