New Report: Sustained Progress at DCF, But Planning and Service Problems Remain

WALLINGFORD, CT — Although Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) continues to struggle to achieve several important benchmarks in implementing reforms to its child welfare services required by a longstanding court order, it has undertaken some initiatives to facilitate improvements, according to an independent monitoring report filed today.

The quarterly report, which covers the period from July 1 to September 30, 2007, is required under the settlement of the class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, brought against Connecticut by Children’s Rights on behalf of the more than 7,000 abused and neglected children in the state’s care.

According to the report, DCF has met 17 of the 22 benchmarks mandated by the Juan F. settlement–the same as indicated in the last monitoring report, in September 2007–and has achieved outcome measures related to family reunification, adoption, and transfer of guardianship for the fourth consecutive quarter. The report notes some serious remaining problems, including systemwide “gridlock,” discharge delays, waiting lists for community services, and a lack of sufficient foster and adoptive homes, but also highlights a number of efforts DCF has taken to address these issues.

“The problems that remain in Connecticut are very serious and need to be addressed to truly meet the needs of the state’s abused and neglected children, but the progress noted in this report is encouraging,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “Under its new leadership, DCF is clearly devoting more attention to these problems, and we hope they will remain focused on them as they continue to work toward implementing all of the required reforms.”

As reported by the independent monitor, DCF has demonstrated heightened attention in the areas of:

  • Adolescents stuck in foster care. Currently, 1,300 foster children in DCF custody–almost 30% of the foster care population in Connecticut–do not have a goal of either safe return to their biological parents or placement in another permanent home outside of state custody. These children are at risk of spending the rest of their childhood as wards of the state, and the monitor’s report found that planning for these children, providing them with adequate services, and searching for permanent homes for them remains a major challenge. However, heightened efforts are underway to ensure that more children do not fall into this category, and that the backlog of children currently in this situation receive immediate attention.
  • Foster children in non-family placements. Nearly 300 Connecticut foster children age 12 and under are housed in facilities and not with families, down from approximately 350 children in November of 2006. DCF has committed to keeping children, especially those 12 and under, out of group homes and institutions unless absolutely necessary for their safety and well-being. The agency has put new systems in place to ensure that this backlog does not grow, and has undertaken individual case reviews of all children 12 and under who are currently in non-family placements to maximize the potential for these children to end up in permanent families.
  • Foster children kept in shelters for extended periods. More than 150 children have been stuck in emergency shelters and other temporary facilities for more than 60 days, and more than 40 of them have languished there for more than six months. DCF has committed to stopping these overstays, and has initiated efforts to immediately identify children who can be appropriately moved. Additionally, the court monitor is conducting a detailed review of every child in this category to diagnose systemic problems and identify opportunities to place the children appropriately and stop the backlog from building.

The release of today’s monitoring report coincided with the release of a legislative study of DCF, which also addressed some of the agency’s persistent problems in recruiting and retaining foster and adoptive families, planning for children’s needs and services, and monitoring and evaluating progress at both systemic and case-by-case levels.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210