Connecticut Successfully Implementing First Steps of Plan to Fix Child Welfare Problems

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families has cleared a longstanding backlog of over 1,000 children in foster care awaiting required health check-ups and dramatically improved its efforts to assess and plan for the services and treatment needed by abused and neglected children, according to a new report trackingDCF’s progress in implementing sweeping child welfare reforms required under court orders secured by Children’s Rights.

The report (PDF), issued by the independent monitor appointed by the federal court to evaluate DCF’s progress, also shows that the agency is still having serious trouble delivering the services needed by children in foster care and their families.

But the number of children served by DCF for whom the agency has developed detailed and appropriate plans for services and treatment has risen for the last two quarters, according to the report, from barely over 50 percent six months ago to nearly 80 percent by the end of 2008. And, in addition to clearing the backlog of overdue health screenings, DCF has also increased the number of children age 12 and under it has moved out of institutions and into foster family homes.

These efforts are required under a new corrective action plan ordered by the court last July following a motion by Children’s Rights and co-counsel Steven Frederick of the Stamford law firm Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky to hold the state in contempt and appoint a limited federal receiver to address DCF’s ongoing failure to meet court-ordered benchmarks in the long-running reform case. The plan, negotiated by Children’s Rights and state officials to avoid a contempt trial, is designed to bring about a dramatic shift toward supporting foster children in families rather than institutions whenever possible, intensifying case reviews and developing individual action plans for children who have been stuck for years in state custody, and improving DCF’s delivery of health care services for children.

Children’s Rights officials say they are cautiously optimistic that these new reforms are finally gaining traction.

“Developing solid plans for these vulnerable children is a crucial first step toward protecting their well-being and ensuring that they and their families receive the services they need,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “We will continue to press DCF to improve its delivery of those services and fulfill its other obligations to children and families under the court orders, but we are encouraged by the progress that today’s report shows.”

Critical to continued progress will be the maintenance of adequate funding for child welfare programs, Lustbader said.

“Governor Rell has made a strong commitment to child welfare in proposing a state budget that largely protects the funding for DCF that supports these vitally important programs,” Lustbader said. “DCF will not be able to deliver the services that Connecticut’s abused and neglected kids and at-risk families need unless that funding is maintained and the leadership implements the required reforms.”

The monitor’s report, filed with the federal court in Hartford Thursday morning, is required by the longstanding settlement agreement in the federal class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, brought by Children’s Rights against the state of Connecticut on behalf of the more than 6,000 children in state custody and thousands of other children at risk of entering state custody.

Covering the period from October 1 through December 31, 2008, the report evaluates DCF’s compliance with court-ordered requirements for the agency’s exit from court oversight and with the new corrective action plan ordered by the court in July 2008.

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