Connecticut Court Order Produces Initial Results, but New Report Highlights Ongoing Concerns

BRIDGEPORT, CT — Under a new court order secured in July 2008 by Children’s Rights in a longstanding effort to reform Connecticut’s child welfare system, the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) has begun reducing its backlog of foster children waiting for health check-ups, intensively reviewing the cases of several thousand children languishing in foster care, and moving children out of group facilities and into family foster homes, according to a new independent monitoring report released today.

But the report also raises concerns about an ongoing decline in the number of available foster homes and DCF’s continued inability to meet critical needs for abused and neglected children, including the delivery of important medical and mental health services and efforts to find permanent homes so children do not grow up in state custody.

Today’s report (PDF), covering July through September 2008, is the latest quarterly assessment of DCF’s efforts to implement systemwide reforms required under the 1991 settlement of the federal class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, brought by Children’s Rights against the state of Connecticut on behalf of the 6,000 children dependent on the state child welfare system and thousands more at risk of entering custody.

Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Steven Frederick of the Stamford law firm Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky LLP, triggered noncompliance proceedings in May 2008, asking the court to appoint a federal receiver to take over DCF’s management with respect to two reform measures on which progress had stalled; a corrective action plan agreed to by the parties and ordered by the court in July averted receivership and a contempt trial, and today’s report is the first to assess progress toward the new requirements.

Among those requirements is the implementation of an aggressive plan to recruit, retain, and provide better support for foster families. The court order commits DCF to produce a net gain of 350 new foster homes by June 2009 and another 500 by June 2010. Although today’s report shows that DCF has made some progress on other requirements of the court order, it also cites a net loss of 113 foster homes this quarter. Additionally, while DCF has attained 17 of 22 benchmarks for reform required by the original Juan F. settlement and is near compliance on three other measures, it is still falling far short of its obligations on two of the most significant mandates: adequately planning for children and meeting their service needs.

“The Department of Children and Families has the resources it needs to fulfill its court-ordered obligations to the children in its care and a clear roadmap for doing so, and its commissioner has stated clearly that these goals can be achieved,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “The time has come for DCF’s leadership to step up and accomplish at last what it has long promised to do to improve the lives of Connecticut’s abused and neglected kids.”

Among the specific improvements noted in today’s report:

  • Fewer children in state custody are overdue for health care screenings. The backlog of children in need of medical, dental, mental health and other health care check-ups has been reduced to 248 — down 75 percent from 1,077 children in July 2008.
  • Fewer young children in foster care are living in group facilities. The number of foster children ages 12 and under living in institutions and non-family group homes dropped to 248 — down 20 percent from August 2008, when 312 children were living in such placements.
  • Intensive case reviews to find permanent homes for children “stuck” in state custody are underway.DCF is now conducting individualized case reviews for thousands of children who have languished for months or years in foster care, in order to identify their services needs and address barriers to finding them permanent homes. July’s court order requires DCF to conduct follow-up reviews every 90 days until all service needs are met.

The report also identifies the following critical problems:

  • A net loss of foster homes. Despite implementation of an expert-approved plan to improve foster parent recruitment and retention, the number of foster homes in Connecticut decreased by 113 during the monitoring period.
  • Failure to meet children’s service needs. The report shows DCF failed to provide necessary services to approximately half (47 percent) of children in state custody. A random sampling of children’s case files showedDCF attained a designation of “needs met” in only 28 of 53 cases.
  • Failure to plan for the treatment of children. The report shows DCF failed to develop an appropriate plan for necessary treatment and services for approximately one-third (38 percent) of children in state custody, doing so in only 33 of the 53 cases sampled.

Today’s report — along with the full history of the Juan F. reform class action and a complete archive of related documents — can be found online at www.childrensrights.org/connecticut.