Report: Challenges Loom Large for Connecticut’s New Child Welfare Leadership

Major Improvements Still Needed to Better Serve Abused and Neglected Children

 
HARTFORD – While Connecticut’s child welfare system has successfully maintained a number of improvements accomplished years ago, the most recent quarterly progress report in the long-running, court-ordered reform effort spurred by national advocacy group Children’s Rights shows the state’s outgoing leadership made virtually no progress to better provide critical services to thousands of children in foster care.

Today’s report (PDF) shows that the state was still failing to meet vital service needs for more than 40 percent of all children in the child welfare system in the last quarter of 2010, leaving much work to be done for Governor Dannel Malloy’s new child welfare leadership. The many services Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) failed to adequately provide for significant numbers of children include behavioral and mental health services, dental care, in-home preventive services for families, domestic violence services, and life skills and transitional services for teens at risk of aging out of foster care.

“For years the previous administration failed Connecticut’s most vulnerable kids and families by never improving the basic services necessary to improve their lives,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director for Children’s Rights. “Getting this reform effort back on track will not be an easy task, but we are encouraged by the commitment of Governor Malloy and DCF’s new Commissioner Joette Katz to immediately begin addressing the needs of vulnerable kids and families. We look forward to working with this new team and will continue to hold leadership accountable to their promises.”

In addition to the poor service delivery for children in state custody, the report notes that there is still a significant lack of foster and adoptive homes — with Connecticut experiencing a net loss of 116 licensed homes since 2008. Stemming from this failure to maintain a large pool of available foster placements, the state is still overusing institutions and group homes, as well as continuing its reliance on out-of-state residential facilities.

“These and other issues lead to delays in placement, discharge delays, children being placed in poorly matched and often more restrictive levels of care, multiple disruptions in treatment and placement, and significant delays in implementing essential services that might maintain children in their home or enable a timely reunification,” the report states.

DCF’s previous leadership under former Governor Jodi Rell made many attempts to stall the progress of reform in Connecticut, including failed efforts to cut Connecticut’s Voluntary Services Program, which for more than 18 years has offered specialized treatment for children at risk of entering state custody due to serious mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Additionally, the state attempted to end federal court oversight in April 2010 without achieving the required reforms for children in foster care — which a federal judge ultimately rejected in September 2010, ordering DCF to immediately renew its work to complete the massive court-ordered reform effort.

Despite the remaining challenges, today’s report notes that DCF has hit 18 of 22 benchmarks — maintaining notable improvement in a variety of areas: reducing caseloads for child welfare staff, increasing caseworker visitation with children in state care, limiting the number of moves foster children experience, and improving the quality of abuse and neglect investigations.

Children’s Rights is scheduled to meet with the independent monitor and Commissioner Katz on April 6 to discuss the state’s plan to immediately catalyze the reform effort for these remaining critical areas.

Children in the class action known as Juan F. v. Rell, originally filed in 1989, 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 including today’s report, please visit www.childrensrights.org/connecticut.