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New Plan Reduces Remaining Goals from 22 to 10; Lowers Caseload Limits; Protects Resources Required to ‘Achieve Sustained Compliance’
(Bridgeport, CT) – A federal court today approved a streamlined child welfare reform plan today that protects vulnerable children and puts Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) closer to successfully exiting court oversight from the reform lawsuit known as Juan F. v. Malloy.
That lawsuit, led by national advocacy organization Children’s Rights and Steven Frederick of Stamford-based Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky, LLP, requires specific improvements to DCF’s system for protecting abused, neglected and at-risk children in DCF custody, as well as those at risk of entering custody.
The 2017 Revised Exit Plan, signed by Governor Dannel Malloy, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz and the state’s attorney general’s office, is the result of months of mediation under the direction of U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly F. Fitzsimmons. The new plan, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill, succeeds the one in place since 2004. It reduces the number of outcome goals from 22 to 14, and then to 10, by June of 2018.
This plan provides needed relief to overburdened caseworkers through lower caseload limits, and continues to mandate “funding and other resources necessary to fully implement and achieve sustained compliance” with court-ordered improvements. It highlights priority areas of concern within DCF, such as gaps in community-based mental health services and the quality of child abuse investigations.
The plan also recognizes the current administration’s significant progress in revamping the state child welfare system. This includes decreasing the number of children in group facilities and institutions, placing more children with kin, bringing fewer children into custody and finding children in foster care permanent homes through reunification, adoption or guardianship.
“DCF is making important strides that better support children and families involved in the state’s child welfare system, but the state must improve a good deal more to fully meet its obligation to these vulnerable kids” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “This plan gives credit for sustaining good performance, puts a bright light on remaining problem areas, and protects resources needed to achieve full compliance and eventual exit.”
Priorities going forward involve improving the quality of case plans and ensuring that children’s medical, dental, mental health and other needs are met. The new plan sets revised caseload limits, which will reduce average social worker caseloads by 25 percent from current limits. The new agreement also requires DCF Commissioner Katz to create a strategic plan in consultation with the court-appointed monitor, to guide implementation of needed reforms.
“It’s an exciting moment for Commissioner Katz and her agency,” said Frederick. “With a clear roadmap and focus in place, and the proper resources to support DCF’s efforts, there is an opportunity to make Connecticut’s child welfare system a model for the rest of the country.”
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