Connecticut Fails to Meet Basic Needs of Abused and Neglected Kids — Advocates Threaten Further Legal Action

HARTFORD, CT — The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) is failing to meet its fundamental obligations to the abused and neglected children who depend on it, says the national advocacy group behind a long-running federal class action to reform the Connecticut child welfare system — and the advocates have notified DCFthat it is in contempt of federal court orders mandating major improvements in the state’s treatment of vulnerable kids.

Children’s Rights and their Connecticut co-counsel asserted DCF’s violation of the court orders today in a letter (PDF) to DCF’s attorney and the independent monitor appointed by the court to track the ongoing reform effort. DCFconsistently fails to adequately plan for and meet the basic needs of more than half the children in the Connecticut child welfare system, according to the latest monitoring report — and advocates say DCF must act swiftly to address the problems or risk further legal action.

“This is now and has been a leadership and management issue. While other states have made great progress in better meeting the needs of vulnerable kids and families and decreasing the use of institutions for kids, Connecticut has continued to backslide on reforms,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “These kids simply cannot wait another eight months for a new administration and for state officials to begin to make good on its promises.”

According to the most recent progress report issued by the court-appointed monitor (PDF), DCF continues to fall short of court-enforceable benchmarks for reform in several fundamental areas, including the recruitment of new foster families and the provision of vital treatment and services to vulnerable children and families.

Children and families in Connecticut continue to experience longstanding shortages and waitlists for behavioral health and substance abuse services; dental services; life skills and transitional services for teens in foster care; and in-home preventive services. Additionally, even where services are readily available, kids and families are frequently unable to access them due to a lack of “timely referrals, timely assessments, [and] follow up” by DCF, according to the monitor’s latest report.

Despite a court-enforceable agreement negotiated by Children’s Rights and state officials in 2008, which averted contempt proceedings initiated by Children’s Rights to address DCF’s poor performance on the same critical measures highlighted today, Connecticut continues to fail to meet benchmarks state officials helped to set. In addition to failing to meet the basic service needs of the families who depend on it, the state also continues to fall short in the following key areas:

  • Unsuccessfully recruiting new foster and adoptive families. DCF had agreed to launch a massive effort to recruit 850 new foster families by June 2010, but according to the latest monitoring report, DCF has recruited only approximately 145 homes in the last two years.
  • Failing to reduce the state’s reliance on institutions and group homes for children in foster care. DCF had previously negotiated an agreement to decrease the state’s use of institutional settings, shifting 10 percent of children in foster care out of institutions and into homes with foster families. But according to the latest monitoring data, the number of children placed in facilities and institutions has actually increased. Additionally,DCF still keeps over 230 kids age 12 and under in temporary facilities, group homes, and institutions.

Children’s Rights’ assertion of noncompliance with the federal court order and contempt triggers a mandatory 30-day period of negotiations aimed at resolving the issues identified by the advocates. If negotiations between Children’s Rights, DCF, and the monitor fail to produce a successful remedy for these problems, Children’s Rights can return to federal court and take further action.

Children in the class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, originally filed in 1991, are represented by Children’s Rights and local co-counsel Steven Frederick of the Stamford law firm Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky. The case was filed against the state on behalf of the approximately 6,000 children in the custody of the Connecticut child welfare system and thousands more at risk of entering custody.

For more information about Children’s Rights ongoing campaign to reform the Connecticut child welfare system, and complete archive of documents related to the Juan F. case, please visit www.childrensrights.org/connecticut.