Children in Connecticut Foster Care, Needing Families, Stuck in Emergency Facilities Instead

BRIDGEPORT, CT — Due in large part to the ongoing failure of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) to maintain an adequate pool of available foster families, the agency holds a substantial number of foster children for overly long periods of time in emergency and temporary facilities rather than family placements, according to a new monitoring report released today — putting the well-being of many children at risk and diminishing their prospects for adoption.

Today’s report details the results of a study of all children kept in emergency and temporary facilities for more than 60 days. It was conducted by the independent monitor in the federal class action reform lawsuit, known as Juan F. v. Rell, brought against Connecticut by the national child welfare advocacy group Children’s Rights on behalf of the more than 7,000 abused and neglected children in state custody.

The study included Connecticut’s “SAFE Homes” for young children, “STAR Homes” for adolescents, and other short-term assessment facilities, and also considered children housed in emergency shelters. All of these facilities were designed to house children temporarily while more permanent arrangements, ideally with foster families, are made. At the time of the report, 144 children had been kept in these “temporary” placements for more than 60 days; new children continually enter this category.

“Today’s report highlights ongoing problems in foster family recruitment that the new leadership of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families simply has not focused on enough,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “After eight months on the job, this is a test of the ability of DCF’s new leadership to confront a persistent issue that represents a real risk to the well-being of the state’s children in foster care.”

Among the findings of today’s report:

  • DCF places children’s well-being at risk by housing them in emergency facilities for too long. In 95 of the 144 cases studied, children were deemed to have been held “inappropriately” in these facilities, and their continued stays were found “detrimental to [their] well-being and permanency needs.”
  • DCF fails to plan adequately for children’s long-term needs. In more than half of the cases studied, DCFhad not taken required steps to move children out of emergency facilities as quickly as possible.
  • DCF fails to maintain an adequate pool of available foster homes. The most common reason for children to be held in emergency placements was DCF’s inability to locate a foster family setting.

While the report noted that 81 of the cases studied also involved additional barriers to placement with foster families in addition to the shortage of available homes — including behavioral issues — the study also indicated that these additional challenges often resulted from DCF’s failure to provide adequate services to meet the needs of children in foster care and prevent their well-being from deteriorating further.

The report was required to help address DCF’s continued poor performance on two key requirements of the settlement agreement in the Juan F. case, including measures related to planning for and meeting children’s service needs. At the time of the last quarterly monitoring report addressing these requirements, issued in December 2007,DCF was failing to adequately plan for 70 percent of the children in its custody, and failing to meet the service needs of 36 percent.

Reducing excessive reliance on temporary facilities was among the many reforms required in an “Action Plan” agreed to by state officials and attorneys for the Juan F. plaintiffs last year.

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