|Action||Establish Regulation for State Oversight of Local Departments of Social Services|
|Comment Period||Ends 3/19/2021|
The existing framework for delivery of DSS programs is based upon Virginia's State Supervised, Locally Administered model. This model allows for local departments of social services (LDSS) to provide mandated and non-mandated programs while the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) provides oversight and guidance to ensure proper delivery. Through this reporting relationship, localities also receive and depend upon a significant portion of funding, on a reimbursement basis, from state and federal sources. Proposed language in 22 VAC40-677-10 is not reflective of the current framework of the state supervised, locally administered model. It does not clearly define the reporting relationship, metrics the LDSS are accountable for adhering to, or the responsibility of VDSS to support the LDSS in achieving proper delivery of programs and services. The proposed regulation also fails to provide a clear path for corrective action and source of funding required to return an LDSS to the locally administered model should it require VDSS intervention. Conversely, existing authority through 63.2-904.1 already allows the Commissioner to intervene in certain scenarios and better illustrates the existing VDSS and LDSS reporting structure.
The existing partnership and overall relationship between VDSS and LDSS mirrors the State Supervised, Locally Administered model as defined by The Code of Virginia Title 63.2 - Welfare (Social Services) Chapter 2. VDSS currently provides guidance, training, policy, quality assurance, program evaluation, best practices, and interpretation of federal and state policy to the LDSS. VDSS also provides fiscal oversight and direction as well as human resources management for many local agencies. The overall current rapport is positive with both entities having a strong understanding of existing resources, expectations and limitations. The proposed regulation assumes this tight partnership exists but fails to consider protection and guidelines for the locality should the relationship ever become strained.
The vague terms as presented in 22 VAC40-677-10 are open for loose interpretation and do not account for shared accountability when faced with potential deficits in support, guidance, data collection, and/or overall program delivery at the state level. The regulation, as written, also fails to offer a clear understanding of what would require an intervention, process for resuming normal operations, and to what extent the local financial responsibility would be. It assumes a unique, rather than shared financial responsibility by the locality to provide additional or defer present financial assistance during and after an intervention. The regulation is intended to offer an instrument for the Commissioner to intervene upon the rare circumstance an LDSS blatantly fails or refuses to properly deliver programs, but it does not specify what necessitates an intervention or what occurs when the LDSS is simply unable to properly deliver. In fact, the latter scenario is the most likely of the three. Extraordinarily heavy workloads, limited funding, extensive program complexity, compressed salaries, and an increasingly limited labor pool combined with an enormous responsibility to protect the lives of our most vulnerable population results in an increased risk for many local agencies to fail. If an LDSS is unable to properly deliver, it could arguably be a result of VDSS having also failed, to an extent, in adequately meeting their oversight duties and thus corrective action and responsibility of associated costs might even be considered a common effort by both entities.
Language in 63.2-904.1 already provides the Commissioner with the authority to intervene when the LDSS fails to provide foster care services in accordance with existing regulations. Details contained in 63.2-904.1 more clearly demonstrate the existing reporting framework by properly incorporating and communicating with the LDSS and local governing body before, during, and after the intervention. Shared accountability and corrective action are expressed as well as a clear timeline for objectives to be met and goals for returning the LDSS back to the locality. The expectations are far clearer and the assumption of control and funding is measurable rather than infinite. The authority is also specific to the program in question and offers a basic outline of how an intervention would occur. This language should be incorporated into the proposed 22 VAC40-677-10 for an effective path to corrective action that incorporates and capitalizes on the combined efforts of the LDSS, Local Board, and Commissioner. Anything less would be an unfair and unacceptable regulation leaving the LDSS with many unanswered questions and placing additional burden on the Local Board to differentiate between conflicting intervention processes while surrendering critical funding without a strong understanding of how to effectively improve and recover.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to provide comment on this proposal.
Crystal Hale, Director of Orange County Dept. of Social Services