CT - Juan F. v. Lamont (formerly Juan F. v. Malloy)
Named Plaintiff Juan F. was 10 years old at the time the complaint was filed. He was removed from his mother in 1985 without the state first attempting to keep him with his family. During his first three years in foster care, Juan was bounced among 11 different foster homes until he was finally evaluated at a mental health clinic, which recommended treatment and a goal of adoption. Instead, however, Juan was next placed in a short-term shelter facility for 11 months. Visits from ever-changing caseworkers were rare and inconsistent. Juan was never able to visit with his sister and brother, from whom he was separated when he entered foster care. After four years in foster care, he still had not received adequate efforts toward finding him an adoptive home.
Named Plaintiffs Dominique and Patrick S. are brothers who were ages seven and five at the time the complaint was filed. Despite multiple reports of severe neglect by their biological parents, cursory investigations failed to identify the danger the children were living in. It was not until police responded to a call and found the boys living in squalid conditions with no food, no furniture and drug paraphernalia around them that they were removed from their home and placed into foster care. The caseworker assigned to them had been employed for only five months, had received no training and had been given a caseload of almost 100 children.
U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill, United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
FILED: December 19, 1989
SETTLEMENT REACHED: January 7, 1991; current Exit Plan renegotiated and approved July 11, 2006
Children’s Rights, along with local advocates in Connecticut, filed this case against the Governor of Connecticut and the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) on behalf of a class of current and future children in foster care and children not in state custody who are at risk of maltreatment. The Complaint alleged dangerous and unlawful policies and practices of the defendants, including the failure to provide adequate child protective services, the failure to make reasonable efforts to keep families together and the failure to provide minimally adequate staffing and appropriate care for children.
The parties settled the case in 1991. Initial implementation and enforcement faced many challenges and numerous administrations, whose leadership and attention to problems facing vulnerable children was extremely inconsistent. Infrastructure investments improved, but leadership was so compromised that in 2003, Children’s Rights filed a motion for contempt that led to the voluntary handover of express management authority over DCF to a task force headed by the Court Monitor. That process laid the groundwork for the current completely renegotiated Modified Revised Exit Plan, approved by the federal court in 2006, which focuses on required outcome improvements in 22 areas that DCF must meet to adequately protect the vulnerable children in its custody.
While some key problems remain, as a result of the efforts of Children’s Rights and its co-counsel Steven Frederick at Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky LLP in Stamford, this legal reform campaign has been successful in bringing about substantial reforms for children in Connecticut. For example:
- Improved safety for children in foster care – the percent of children maltreated while in state custody decreased from 3.1 percent in 2000 to 0.2 percent in 2014.
- In 1989, approximately 60 percent of reports of abuse and neglect were not investigated at all due to staff shortages; since 2006, virtually all reports of abuse or neglect are investigated, and consistently over 90 percent of all investigations are initiated promptly.
- The percent of siblings in foster care who are placed together increased from a baseline of 57 percent in 2005 to 90.6 percent in 2014 (59% increase), measured against the standard of 95 percent or higher.
- In 1989, caseworkers routinely failed to make required visits with children in state custody; since 2007, consistently, at least 95 percent of children in foster care are visited at least once per month.
- In the last three years, under the current DCF leadership, the placement of children in foster care with relatives has increased from 21 percent to over 33 percent.
- Also in the last three years, the use of non-family group placements has dropped by 32 percent percent, which translates to almost 600 fewer children in facilities and institutions; the use of out-of-state facilities has dropped from 364 children to 26.
However, the most recent Quarterly Report, released in July 2014, flags several important areas of inadequate performance:
- DCF meets children’s service needs, including medical, dental, and mental health services, in only 57 percent of cases. This is down from a high performance mark of over 74 percent one year earlier, and far short of the 80 percent standard.
- The quality of case planning, a key tool for aligning appropriate housing and services for children, remains inadequate. Compliance dropped to 52 percent of cases sampled, down from a high performance mark of 65 percent in the third quarter of 2013, and far short of the 90 percent standard.
- DCF’s effort to support children with community based placements and services has failed to keep pace with the reduction in the historical overuse of facilities and institutions. The most recent 2014 Monitoring Report found “thousands of children and families in need of behavioral health, substance abuse, educational, medical, domestic violence, permanency and other services” and that “many more foster homes, both relative and non-relative, are needed to serve children with complex issues.”
- Alongside a recent spike in reports of abuse, the most recent Monitoring Report found many workers with caseloads over court-ordered limits, and a resulting negative impact on “the quality of the casework services.”
Children’s Rights and its co-counsel continue to work hard with the Court Monitor and the DCF leadership, and we continue to gather information from key stakeholders on the ground to address these remaining problems and move the agency forward. In order to successfully comply and exit from federal court involvement , the defendants must hit and then hold all the 22 outcome measures of the Revised Exit Plan for two consecutive quarters, and Children’s Rights will continue its work in Connecticut until required improvements are achieved.