Despite Improvements, Reports Show Urgent Need to Improve Planning and Services for Children in Connecticut

Two major reports evaluating Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), released today, reveal that while DCF has made impressive progress in implementing improvements required by a longstanding court order to reform its child welfare services, a new sense of urgency is needed to address system-wide “gridlock,” waitlists for services, and other serious problems that still remain.

The reports, which include the latest quarterly report on DCF’s performance and a court-ordered annual review of the quality of the agency’s care and services, show that DCF is adequately meeting the needs of abused and neglected children only 51 percent of the time, and that adequate planning for children has seriously slipped over the past year–with only 30 percent of the cases it handles receiving adequate attention. The new annual report reflects the results of a comprehensive review of approximately 2,500 cases. Both reports are available at www.childrensrights.org.

“Connecticut has made great progress in many areas under the Juan F. settlement, but it is vitally important that DCFredouble its efforts to address the major problems that remain,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “With new leadership finally in place, we expect to see a fresh sense of urgency and some traction on these problem areas that so directly relate to the quality of children’s lives under DCF’s care.”

The reports, and the reform efforts they evaluate, are required under the settlement of the longstanding class action settlement, known as Juan F. v. Rell, brought against DCF by the national child welfare watchdog organization Children’s Rights. Senior U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevins has scheduled a private status conference with the parties to the lawsuit for Monday, October 1, in Bridgeport. A state legislative hearing by the bipartisan Program Review and Investigations Committee on reforms at DCF will be held tomorrow in Hartford.

The reports show the state meeting 17 of 22 benchmarks mandated by the Juan F. settlement, including in the areas of:

  • Timely commencement and completion of abuse and neglect investigations;
  • Minimizing further maltreatment of children once they enter state custody;
  • Conducting required searches for relatives as potential caregivers for foster children, and providing timely assessments of children when they enter state custody
  • Ensuring that workers who oversee children’s safety and well-being have caseloads at or below required limits;
  • Ensuring that workers visit with children in state custody and monitor their safety and needs; and
  • Reducing the number of foster children placed in institutions.

However, the reports also highlight serious problems in major reform areas, including:

  • Failure to plan for children’s needs and services. The latest quarterly report shows DCF adequately planning for only 30% of children in state custody. Performance in this area has steadily declined over the last four quarters, from a high of only 63% in 2006.
  • Failure to move children out of foster care and into permanent homes. More than a quarter of all children in foster care in Connecticut do not have a goal of safely reuniting with their biological families or finding a new permanent adoptive family, and risk spending the rest of their childhood in state custody.
  • Failure to meet children’s service needs, with system-wide “gridlock” and wait lists for needed services preventing children’s needs from being met. Both reports show DCF still failing to meet the needs of approximately half of all children in state custody. This includes the continued practice of keeping children in temporary placements for extended periods of time, such as emergency shelters and “SAFE Homes”, which the quarterly report notes “with few exceptions are not in the best interest of the children.”

The service needs and planning failures were the subject of months-long negotiations between Children’s Rights and Connecticut officials in 2006, resulting in a detailed Action Plan in January 2007 aimed at correcting the problems. After a six-month period without a permanent commissioner, Sue Hamilton was appointed DCF Commissioner in July.

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