In CT, Backlogs of Children Awaiting Homes and Services, But Reforms Underway

BRIDGEPORT, CT — The latest progress report on Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) credits the agency with implementing the first stages of a new court-ordered reform plan, including efforts to recruit hundreds of additional foster parents, but also highlights more than 2,500 foster children requiring heightened reviews because they are “stuck” in state custody and more than 1,000 children for whom the state has failed to provide required medical check-ups.

The report, filed with the federal court in Bridgeport late Friday, is required by the longstanding settlement of the federal class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, brought by national advocacy group Children’s Rights against Connecticut on behalf of the more than 6,000 children in state custody and thousands of other children at risk of entering state custody. The report, covering the period from April 1, 2008 to June 30, 2008, includes initial progress toward compliance with a court-enforceable reform plan implemented in July of 2008. The new reform plan was negotiated between the parties, and avoided a public contempt hearing, after Children’s Rights triggered noncompliance proceedings in May of 2008 for the state’s failure to meet the requirements of the Juan F. settlement.

“No major surprises here; this report underscores the need for the major shift in priorities and the new court-ordered reforms that the governor and DCF committed to in July,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “Sustained accountability is needed from all directions. The DCF leadership team must now tackle the system-wide gridlock of service deficiencies head on, moving away from housing children in group homes and facilities and toward recruiting and supporting foster families, and fulfilling their obligations to meet children’s health care and other service needs.”

The report shows DCF has made some progress toward meeting the requirements of the new reform plan, most notably developing a statewide plan for recruiting and retaining foster families, which has been approved by a neutral child welfare expert as required by the court order. Following years of net losses in the number of available foster families in Connecticut, the new recruitment plan requires the addition of 850 new foster homes over the next two years. The court order requires a minimum net gain of 350 new licensed foster homes by June 2009 and an additional net gain of 500 by June 2010.

The report also identifies the need for improvement in the areas of:

  • Reducing the backlog of children “stuck” in state custody. The reform plan requires targeted efforts to address the needs of children stuck in inappropriate DCF placements and circumstances, which includes children who are legally free for adoption but remain in state custody and children who are languishing unnecessarily in emergency shelters and other group facilities when they could be living with families. According to the monitoring report, including all eight categories of “stuck” children identified in the new court order, this group currently includes more than 2,500 children — all of whom must now received heightened reviews to pinpoint service problems and address their needs.
  • Reducing the backlog of overdue health screenings and treatment for children. The reform plan requires DCF to identify all children who are overdue for required medical, dental, mental health, vision, hearing, and developmental screenings, and to promptly provide the required screenings and any necessary treatment. The monitoring report identified over 1,000 children in state custody for whom DCF has failed to provide required check-ups for 60 days or more. Under the court order, DCF must now deliver all required health screens and check-ups and ensure necessary treatment is administered for all of these 1000 children within the next 90 days.
  • Adequately planning for children in state custody and meeting their service needs. Under the Juan F. settlement, DCF must develop appropriate plans to move children quickly into permanent homes and to ensure that they receive essential services in no fewer than 90 percent of cases. The monitoring report shows DCF is meeting this requirement for only 56 percent of cases. Performance in this area has steadily declined over the last year-and-a-half, from a high of only 63% in 2006. The report also shows DCF is meeting the services needs of only 56 percent of children, far short of the settlement’s requirement of 80 percent.

The monitoring report, as well as the Juan F. settlement and the court-ordered reform plan, can be found at www.childrensrights.org/connecticut.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210